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Matsuzaka’s tale of two innings

08.30.09 at 6:49 pm ET
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MANCHESTER– Much has been made about Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s eventual return to the Red Sox. One can only hope that a lot will change between today and September 9.

Matsuzaka, rehabbing from a right shoulder strain, took the hill today in Manchester, NH for the first game of a double-header between the Double A Portland Sea Dogs and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Expected to throw 55 pitches on the day, Matsuzaka nearly filled his quota with a five-run first inning. It took the Japanese right-hander 49 pitches to get his first three outs and was told after the inning that he was done for the day. After telling Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler that he would still like to “get [his] work in,” Matsuzaka was told he could throw the first 10 pitches of the second inning. As it happened, he needed only nine.

Matsuzaka adjusted his release point a bit and retired Scott Campbell, Brad Emaus, and David Cooper in order in the nine-pitch, eight-strike second. He said after the start through an interpreter that, though he expected to improve throughout the game, he didn’t expect the beating that came in the first.

“In the first inning, I think I got into the game sort of at about 60-70 percent of maximum output for me,” Matsuzaka said. “That’s how I was approaching it. There were a few things that I wanted to work on, and that’s why I wanted to get into the game gradually. Mind you, I didn’t think that I would get hit up quite that badly, but I think in the second inning, I just applied a few of those things that I was working on in the first.”

From the very beginning (literally) it was clear that there was plenty that needed work. After getting a standing ovation from the MerchantsAuto.com Stadium crowd, Matsuzaka sailed his first warmup pitch high and wide of Sea Dogs catcher Juan Apodaca. The crowd laughed, Matsuzaka laughed, and he received a half-hearted Bronx cheer on his next attempt, a strike. End of story? Hardly.

After serving up a leadoff homer to New Hampshire left fielder Todd Donovan, Matsuzaka repeated the laughable toss to Campbell en route to walking the No. 11 Blue Jays prospect (according to Baseball America). Matsuzaka said after the game that he was using Major League balls in the start and that he didn’t necesserily feel uncomfortable with his grip or release despite letting some pitches fly.

“Physically, I have no problems,” Matsuzaka said. “I think, within the game, there are probably some adjustments that I need to make to my delivery, but nothing that I am too worked up about.”

Also present in the unpleasant first was a very noticeable leg kick that that previously had not been a part of the pitcher’s delivery. Matsuzaka explained the kick after, saying it was done in an “attempt to prevent myself from diving too far forward and getting in front of myself.”

Matsuzaka eventually took the loss in the 5-3 New Hampshire victory. He threw 58 total pitches (32 for strikes), gave up four hits, five earned runs, and walked three while striking out too. Though he didn’t admitedly wasn’t at full capacity in the first inning, Matsuzaka did add that his effort in the second was “pretty much at 100 percent.”

“Right now I’m not too worried about the results of facing each individual hitter,” Matsuzaka said. “I think what’s more important right now is that I’m able to really feel and grasp those gradual steps in each game and feel like I’m making progress in each start. Compared to my previous start, I definitely feel that I took some positive steps. I certainly was able to get my arm around a lot better today, so I think today was a good outing overall, especially in the second inning.”

No. 18 used his fastball, slider, and changuep in the start. After reaching 92 only once in the long first frame, Matsuzaka hit 96 in the second. While he credited the solid contact made by Fisher Cats (among them a bases-loaded two-run double by Fisher Cats catcher Brian Jeroloman) to their tendency to be “very aggressive to the fastball,” it was his slider that may have disappointed the most. Time and time again he missed badly with the pitch the right-handers, often times going very far outside and making Apocada’s day just a little more difficult.

Matsuzaka, was 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA with the Sox before being shut down on June 20,  also confirmed that his next start (September 4 for Pawtucket) is expected to be his last rehab start. He noted that when he is officially activated (again, the ninth is the date said by Sox Manager Terry Francona) will be decided by the “managers and coaches.”

Two completely different pitchers were present in the first two innings. Which one shows up next month for the Sox is anybody’s guess.

Read More: Matsuzaka rehab,
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