FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a dangerous morning for pitching coach John Farrell. With a wild Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound in the bullpen, Farrell stepped in as a lefthanded batter against the starter. He nearly got hit multiple times, mostly in the foot, as Matsuzaka threw 54 pitches in the side session.
Matsuzaka was out of the strike zone high, low, inside, outside, as he threw first to George Kottaras, then bullpen catcher Mani Martinez.
“I’m light on my feet,” Farrell said, “so I can get out of the way.”
While throwing strikes hasn’t always been Matsuzaka’s forte, Farrell didn’t seem overly concerned with location in today’s bullpen session. The results in Monday’s game against Atlanta should be more telling, especially with the efficiency demonstrated by Matsuzaka in the WBC games.
“Given the amount of travel that he’s encountered both pitching in Japan and then out on the West Coast, he came to us really trying to settle back into our work routine here,” Farrell said. “I think more the focus [was] on just controlling his body, feeling the flight of the baseball. His command overall was probably less than what we typically see, but attribute that to the inconsistency of the work routine and the amount of travel that he’s had.”
The fact that Farrell stood in as a batter against Matsuzaka is not unusual for the pitcher. He uses it often as a visual guide during his bullpen sessions, Farrell said. He added that, “Today was more of a workout rather than how pinpoint control was he. … The one thing we’ve learned whether it’s the Japanese team or the US team, it’s hard to keep that spring training schedule and that consistent work routine that is typical for this time of year. So we have to factor those things into the players that return to our club and keep our initial expectations somewhat in check.”
The Sox will bring him back to about 70 to 75 pitches on Monday, a step back from the 98 pitches that he threw last Sunday against Team USA. For now, the team is looking to get Matsuzaka back into his typical routine in preparation for the start of the season.
Farrell also laid out a bit of the pitching as we get closer to the start of the season. Jon Lester is scheduled to pitch in the Friday night game against the Mets in a week, followed by Matsuzaka on Saturday. Tim Wakefield will actually piggyback with Matsuzaka in that game, following him to the mound. That order of pitchers should give you a good hint as to the pitching rotation that the Sox haven’t yet made official. (There’s a chance we’ll get official word this afternoon.)
When asked about the goals for Matsuzaka this season, Farrell said, “The focus is to make every start first and foremost, regardless of the pitcher as long as they’re doing the work in between starts to prepare themselves for their game performances — that takes into account that health is on his side. … Sure we’d like to see him more efficient with his overall pitch count, but I think at the same time we don’t want efficiency and sacrifice performance. If he can combine an 18-win season with going deeper into games, I think that would be the ultimate goal for Daisuke this year.”