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Five things we learned on ‘Daisuke Day’ in Pawtucket

04.10.10 at 5:50 pm ET
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The second game of the season for the Pawtucket Red Sox added a little more excitement for fans of the major league club. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox oft-injured starter, made his 2010 pitching debut with positive results. The right-hander pitched five solid innings in Pawtucket’s 1-0 win over Rochester on Saturday afternoon.

Matsuzaka surrendered only two hits, walked one and hit two batters while striking out three in his debut.

The questions still come up as to what will happen to Matsuzaka when he is healthy and ready to pitch for the Red Sox, but this was a first step and a positive one for a former 18-game winner in the major leagues.

Matsuzaka said he came out of the outing without any discomfort and said that he feels very good after throwing in live game action.

Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s game.

FASTBALL COMMAND AHEAD OF SECONDARY PITCHES

Neck and back issues have hampered Matsuzaka early this season, and it was important to see if he could locate a fastball with consistent velocity. For all accounts the results were encouraging. Matsuzaka was playing in the 88-91 mph range consistently through his five innings and topped out at 93 once while touching 92 a few times.

“I felt I had good feel on the ball out there today,” Matsuzaka said. “I think the best part about today was my fastball command. … The feeling that sort of left over on my fingers after making those pitches felt pretty good in terms of velocity.”

Matsuzaka admitted that his secondary pitches were not up to par yet.

“My fastball was good but my slider and change-up weren’t that great today,” said Matsuzaka, who missed some spots with his offspeed pitches in the fifth, which resulted in one walk and two hit batsmen. “I think I really need those pitches to come along to put a better ball game together.”

SHARP IN THE FIRST FEW INNINGS

In the early going Matsuzaka was very sharp. His first inning was by far his sharpest. Matsuzaka struck out leadoff man Matt Tolbert on three pitches and got Luke Hughes swinging to end the opening frame.

Matsuzaka didn’€™t allow a baserunner until the top of the third when former major leaguer Jacque Jones roped a double to left field on a pitch away. However, Josh Reddick helped eliminate the threat when Danny Valencia flied out to Reddick and the strong-armed center fielder easily gunned out Jones at third base.

The Red Wings got another double in the fourth, but Matsuzaka quickly ended the threat in that inning and he seemed to be pitching more to contact instead of nibbling on the corners looking for called strikes.

Through four innings, Matsuzaka had only thrown 50 pitches (31 strikes) and made solid pitches when there was a threat on base.

In the fifth, and final inning, he ran into some trouble. Matsuzaka walked the lead off man then hit the next batter to put two on with nobody out. Jones tried to bunt the runners over but Matsuzaka made a solid defense play to get the lead runner at third base. He got the next hitter to fly out before plunking Brian Dinkleman to load the bases.

But Matsuzaka, like some many times before, wiggled his way out of trouble before his day was over. He said fatigue was not an issue, rather execution of pitches got him in trouble.

“It was more technical issues,” Matsuzaka said. “I think I was trying to be a little too fine with those pitches.”

HE COULD HAVE KEPT GOING IF NEEDED

The plan was to throw 80 to 85 pitches in his first start, but Daisuke Matsuzaka had to settle for 73 pitches in his five innings.

‘€œI wasn’€™t really thinking about pitch count too much but when I came in after the fourth inning that’€™s when I was told that one more inning after this,” said Matsuzaka, who was told he threw 73 pitches during the press conference. “At that point I thought to myself that maybe I’€™m getting up there in pitch count. Now that I heard what my pitch count was I guess I could have gone out there for another inning.’€

Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has gone on record to say that he would like to see Matsuzaka throw 95 pitches without discomfort before appearing in a game for the Red Sox and Matsuzaka said if that was the bench mark then he would be able to reach it right now.

“If think even now if it’s just about throwing 95 pitches I could do it now,” he said.

WEATHER DIDN’T THROW OFF HIS RYTHYM

The PawSox had beautiful weather for their home opener earlier in the week, but as anyone knows who lives in New England, things can change on a dime. Rain soaked the area on Friday and that could have thrown off Matsuzaka’s ryhthym, but that wasn’t the case.

PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said Matsuzaka was out in the middle of the wet weather preparing for Saturday’s start.

“The first day I saw him was yesterday and what was impressive to me was in a rain storm he’€™s out there going to get himself ready for today’€™s game,” Lovullo said before the game. “He was out there doing his work. He was out there doing his day before a start work. The guy wants to get after it. The small interaction I’€™ve had with him his spirits were good, he had a smile on his face and he’€™s ready to go.”

The weather during the game was also a little tricky for outfielders as a left to right 15 to 25 mph wind affected fly balls all day, but Matsuzaka knew that it would have been tough to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

“With the wind so strong they probably weren’t going to get the long ball,” said Matsuzaka, who got eight fly ball outs on the day. “I had good feel for my pitches up high and it was good to be able to get those pop ups.”

EMBREE GETS IN SOME WORK

Lovullo wanted to get Embree into either game 1 or game 2 of the doubleheader on Saturday, and he got the 40-year-old into the action after Matsuzaka came out of the game. Embree pitched a scoreless sixth inning while striking out two in the process.

The clock is ticking on Embree’s go around with the Red Sox this season, as he as an opt-out clause on April 15. Embree said he would like to stay with the Red Sox but that it may not be the most realistic option at this point.

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