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A mending Daisuke Matsuzaka works to find his command

03.10.12 at 6:53 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The idea of Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching in 2012 is becoming increasingly real.

The right-hander, now nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, threw a 40-pitch side session on Saturday in which he mixed sliders into his repertoire for the first time since the procedure. After the session, Sox pitching coach Bob McClure suggested that Matsuzaka is progressing extremely well in his rehab, to the point where he looked like a pitcher who never required surgery.

“As far as from what I’€™m seeing from a health standpoint, it was hard to tell he was ever even hurt from the way he’€™s throwing the baseball right now,” said McClure. “That doesn’€™t mean he’€™s ready, by no means. I’€™m just saying it’€™s free and easy, it’€™s coming out of his hand really good. It’€™s clean, it looks sharp. Looks like he’€™s on schedule.”

McClure said that there is no timetable for Matsuzaka’s rehab. However, the pitching coach said that once Matsuzaka had “a couple” more side sessions, barring a setback, he would then progress to throwing three or four live batting practice sessions, eventually including simulated innings.

During the side sessions, McClure and Matsuzaka are working on the pitcher’s direction to the plate. McClure noted that Matsuzaka tends to open up with his glove hand and head, with part of his body rotating towards first base when he throws. That, in turn, hampers the pitcher’s command and also places stress on his shoulder.

“We’€™re really dealing with some issues as far as a mechanical standpoint in order to get his body in the right position so this doesn’€™t happen again. There’€™s a little bit from where the rehab where he got into some bad habits,” said McClure. “It’€™s very simple.

“When he’€™s compact [in his direction to the plate] and everything is going in tight and compact, it’€™s all good because he’€™s using his body and not just his arm to throw a baseball. Playing catch is very unusual because he actually does [pull his glove away from his body]. I wish he would do that differently because I would try to emulate more the type of throw I’€™m actually going to do off the mound also.’€

McClure said that Matsuzaka was receptive to the suggestion, noting that the fact that he opens up in his delivery with his glove hand rotating away from his body is something that people have tried to fix since he started playing.

“He feels it when he does it right. And he feels it when he does it wrong,” said McClure. “We want to get it to where it’€™s muscle memory and he doesn’€™t have to think about it. Because you can not pitch that way. You can not pitch thinking about mechanics and get guys out. You can’€™t do it. You can change muscle memory but it takes hundreds and hundreds of reps the right way.”

Matsuzaka was 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 23 walks in 37 1/3 innings last year. In five seasons with the Sox, he is 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA, but he has averaged just 15 appearances over the last three years.

Read More: bob mcclure, Daisuke Matsuzaka,
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