|The oddity of Daisuke Matsuzaka||10.10.08 at 1:13 pm ET|
“You never know what to expect with Daisuke.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, that. The words were uttered yesterday by Red Sox infielder Alex Cora, who went on to suggest that Daisuke Matsuzaka is a pitcher who might need 120 pitches to make it through six innings, but who still might emerge with a ‘W.’ Indeed, as we’ve mentioned before, Matsuzaka led major-league starters this year with seven wins in which he failed to pitch six innings. As it turns out, the 28-year-old is just one of 10 pitchers since 1956 to have that many wins of fewer than six innings. (For the full list, courtesy of the amazing baseball-reference.com, click here.)
As a rookie, C.C. Sabathia recorded eight such W’s in 2001–though he needed a rule quirk to do it. One of his eight wins was in a four-inning start, a result of a rain-shortened, six-inning win over the Yankees that permitted him to claim a victory even in the absence of a five-inning outing. And in 2004, Kenny Rogers recorded eight wins of fewer than six innings. (One can only wonder whether Daisuke will now be featured on the fantastic website, menwholooklikekennyrogers.com.)
It’s a word thing to observe the mix of indifference and contempt that Matsuzaka’s outings typically generate. Once an object of fascination, fans and baseball insiders alike seem to treat Matsuzaka’s outings as a personal affront, suggesting that his 18-3 season and 2.90 ERA were tainted by his staggering number of walks (Matsuzaka and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan are the only pitchers since 1903 to record 18 or more wins and a sub-3.00 ERA while allowing more than five walks per nine innings) failure to provide innings.
Those themes have been beaten to a fault. (Beatings, in general, are to be resisted!) So, I say enough of dissecting that aspect of Daisuke’s game.
Instead, it is interesting to contemplate an almost-forgotten aspect of Matsuzaka’s season. While Matsuzaka is slammed for his failure to provide innings this year, such assessments often ignore his three-week stint on the disabled list. But for the shoulder fatigue that he experienced in June, he likely would have finished the year with around 185 innings–not great, but not enough to inspire ire.
While Matsuzaka’s innings loads were limited by his time on the D.L. this year, the spell may have represented an important turning point in his Red Sox career. Throughout the pitcher’s first season and a third in Boston, there had been a great deal of back and forth about the nature of his between starts routine and the amount of work that he should be doing when not on the mound. Since the trip to the D.L., according to Sox pitching coach John Farrell, Matsuzaka has been much more open to embracing the Red Sox trainers’ shoulder program, helping to keep his arm strong through the end of the season.
“He’s a very, very diligent worker,” said Farrell. “But the specifics to the shoulder program and the maintenance programs around the throwing arm, he’s been much more—committed is not the right word—but he understands the importance of it and has done a great job with that in the time since he was back from the D.L.”
Whereas Matsuzaka would throw late-season bullpen sessions of 75-90 pitches in 2007, this year, he is limiting himself to 45 or 50 pitches in those workouts. As a result, whereas the Sox spent last September trying to find opportunities to provide the pitcher with extra rest, there was no such need this year. That reflects, in part, Matsuzaka’s ongoing acclimation to Major League Baseball in the U.S.
“Going through the cycle for a second year, he’s much more aware of what’s coming up. He can anticipate the travel fatigue, the workload, and he’s very smart about that,” said Farrell. “He’s been more open this year to lessening the amount of throwing he’s done between starts, and that’s what’s allowed him to remain strong and fresh throughout the second half of this season.”
How that translates to Matsuzaka’s Game 1 start tonight will be interesting to see. In three regular-season starts against the Rays, he went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA. Tampa typically proved content to wait him out, having drawn 11 walks in 15 innings against the Sox pitcher. Rays skipper Joe Maddon described Matsuzaka as a pitcher who tries to nibble outside of the strike zone with his fastball and whose success relies on getting batters to chase his off-speed stuff.
Given that expectation, perhaps Matsuzaka will change course and employ a different strategy against a team that is so familiar with him. that Matsuzaka has the ability to flip the switch and become a different pitcher represents one of the foundations of his success (criticisms of his inefficiency notwithstanding).
“He can attack with an above average fastball at times or he can take a finesse approach to really change speeds with his pitches,” said Farrell. “He can almost be two different pitchers in the course of one game.”
Whichever pitcher Matsuzaka tries to be tonight, the Sox will merely hope that he is a hurler capable of generating a Game 1 victory.
- Xander Bogaerts, Portland to headline Futures at Fenway
- SoxProspects Video of the Week: Matt Barnes
- Cup of Coffee: Henry, Diaz propel Pawtucket to blowout victory
- Cup of Coffee: Spring's walk-off grand slam lifts Portland
- Bradley: "Everything's back to normal"
- Cup of Coffee: PawSox, Drive produce walk-off wins
- PawSox activate Jackie Bradley, Jr. from disabled list
- Weekly Notes: De La Rosa, Betts take center stage
- Cup of Coffee: Shaw leads 18-hit attack in Sea Dogs rout
- Cup of Coffee: Gedman, big Salem seventh key system’s only win