Less than a week after a meeting between the two sides, there’s a war of words playing out publicly between the Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka over whether the team’s training regimen is responsible for the pitcher’s struggles this season.
In a recently published Japanese article, which appeared in the Japanese website Allatanys and first reported in the Boston media by WEEI.com, Matsuzaka questioned whether he would have the same success he enjoyed in Japan in the major leagues if the Red Sox do not allow him to train the way he used to. Matsuzaka’s former regimen included extended throwing sessions, which he says the Red Sox no longer allow him to do.
“If I’m forced to continue to train in this environment, I may no longer be able to pitch like I did in Japan,” Matsuzaka is quoted as saying in the article, according to WEEI.com’s translation. “The only reason why I managed to win games during the first and second years [in the United States] was because I used the savings of the shoulder I built up in Japan. Since I came to the Major Leagues, I couldn’t train in my own way, so now I’ve lost all those savings.”
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, in an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI this afternoon (listen to it here, partial transcript here), defended the team’s approach, saying the adjustment in Matsuzaka’s regimen was in response to the fatigue that Matsuzaka — currently on the disabled list with a mild shoulder strain — experienced adjusting to the majors.
“We have the utmost respect for the baseball norms and cultures that the Japanese baseball league has,” Farrell said. “We not only respect them but we acknowledged them at the time of signing Daisuke. When he came over, no changes were recommended. No changes were mandated by any means. The adjustments in throwing have been in response to the challenges that Daisuke’s faced here. …
“We know that there was a pretty substantial amount of fatigue in the second half of ’07 that we had to give him a breather at the time, largely in part because of the differences in travel, differences in competition, differences in strike zone, a number of the on-field challenges that he faced. So any of the adjustments that we’ve encountered have been in response to how he’s adapted to the rigors of the schedule and the competition here.”
Farrell further defended the Red Sox program, saying it was the best way to protect their investment in Matsuzaka.
“We’ve got a $103 million investment in a guy that we’ve got to not only protect, but put him in a best situation to have that success we just outlined,” Farrell said.
Matsuzaka has made eight starts in 2009 with a 1-5 record and 8.23 ERA, a horrid stat line that most blame on the effects of pitching for the Japanese team in the World Baseball Classic before the season.
While making sure not to direct the full blame for Matsuzaka’s woes at the WBC, Farrell today did say the team was concerned that the pitcher would be spending his spring not under the direction of the Red Sox but rather with Team Japan.
In perhaps his strongest statement, Farrell also questioned whether Matsuzaka put in the offseason work that was necessary to both prepare him for the rigors of a major league season.
“In hindsight, there might not have been the work that he needed to put in on his own time during the offseason to build the foundation that every pitcher requires to withstand the workloads that a major league starting pitcher is going to go through here in the States,” Farrell said.
According to one Japanese reporter covering Matsuzaka, the pitcher explained his dissatisfaction to the Red Sox during a 90-minute meeting with manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein, and Farrell at Fenway Park on July 24.
“We had made huge strides [in communicating] during our meetings,” Francona said before tonight’s Red Sox-Athletics game. “So to hear him say that — to have him air it out publicly — I’m disappointed.”
Francona said that he had talked to Matsuzaka within the last two days and thought he and the pitcher had an agreement to follow the team’s regimen. Matsuzaka’s statements, made after the July 24 meeting, imply that he wants to be able to work his shoulder back into shape on his own training schedule.
“If [Red Sox owner John Henry] came down and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ and we said, ‘We’re letting [Daisuke] do it his own way,’ he probably wouldn’t like that very much,” said Francona.
“I know there’s frustration, but it’s unfortunate for [Matsuzaka] to say that,” Francona said. “I thought everybody was on board with what we were doing.”
Matsuzaka has recently been unhappy that the Red Sox are not allowing him to throw as often as he would like. When Matsuzaka first reported to Florida earlier this month to rehabilitate his shoulder after being put on the disabled list for the second time this season, he was throwing (not pitching off of a mound) for two days, then resting his arm on the third day, according to a Japanese reporter. Now, Matsuzaka is limited to throwing for one day (again, not from a mound) and resting the next day. So instead of throwing two of every three days, he is now throwing one of every two.
Matsuzaka has been additionally frustrated by the fact that the Red Sox do not have a timetable for his return to the rotation, according to the reporter. Farrell said this afternoon that the Sox hoping for a September return for Matsuzaka, and explained why the Red Sox did not outline any specifics.
“The thing that we have not done is put a target date as a marker in the near future to say this is the game that we’re hoping you’re back in Boston for, and being attached to the calendar,” Farrell said on WEEI. “Sometimes it causes the pitcher or the player to neglect how his body’s feeling and what his body is telling him. So in a sense, we’re not letting Daisuke completely direct this, but he is certainly included in our planning and the progression of the throwing going forward.”
After the 90-minute meeting at Fenway last week, Francona said Matsuzaka would continue to rehab in Fort Myers, Fla. and be examined by team doctors when the Red Sox are in Tampa Aug. 4-5. Francona gave no indication when Matsuzaka might begin throwing off a mound again.
“He looks great. It’s obvious he’s worked hard,” Francona said at the time. “What we kind of arrived at is that rather than have a target date for a return — I think that’s what we’ve done in the past — we’re going to keep it to short goals.”
Francona indicated that Matsuzaka “looks a lot stronger” and said the pitcher’s shoulder strength had “vastly” improved based on the team’s testing methods.
In the Allatanys article, which was written by Taeko Yoshii, who has also penned at least two Matsuzaka-related books, Matsuzaka said he thinks the difference in training methods between the United States in Japan is the reason why Japanese pitchers tend to have a couple of good seasons before seeing a dropoff in performance.
“I know that there are Japanese starters who came to the United States before me only have two or three successful years,” Matsuzka said, according to the Globe’s translation. “I now believe that it is because of a difference in training and conditioning methods.
“If I don’t act, people in the Major League Baseball will never change their attitude toward it. I need them to understand this. It is more than just about myself but future Japanese pitchers who come over to the United States.”
The Globe’s Daigo Fujiwara, Steve Silva, and Ben Collins contributed to this report. Background information from the Globe’s Tony Massarotti was also used. Report last updated at 5:17 p.m.