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Scout that helped lead Daisuke Matsuzaka to Red Sox reflects on pitcher’s career in Boston

10.03.12 at 9:45 am ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka

NEW YORK — Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s entrance was a firestorm. Gyro-ball. Six pitches. Massive media following. Teammates and coaches taking classes to learn Japanese.

His likely exit, well, that’s another story.

Matsuzaka most likely will be pitching his final game in a Red Sox uniform Wednesday night, completing a six-year career that started with a wave of historic fanfare. But now, thanks to injuries and lack of production, the pitcher’s perceived swan song couldn’t be any more anticlimatic. (Unless, of course, you’re the Orioles and need a Sox win to stay alive in the division race.)

“The whole thing has gone so quick, I think,” Red Sox Pacific Rim scouting coordinator Jon Deeble said by phone early Wednesday morning. “It sort of snuck up on us.”

While Deeble is halfway across the world, Matsuzaka’s start against the Yankees does signify a defining moment for the Sox scout. He was, after all, one of the chief components in leading the righty to the Red Sox, having followed Matsuzaka’s career from his early high school days.

And while a six-year stint with the Red Sox hasn’t lived up to expectations — Matsuzaka has gone 50-36 with a 4.47 ERA in 116 appearances — the pitcher always will stand out in Deeble’s mind.

Along with former international scouting director Craig Shipley, it was Deeble who helped lead the Red Sox to the point where they could out-bid the rest of baseball for Matsuzaka via a six-year deal worth $103 million (including a $51,111,111 posting fee.).

“I saw him pitch a lot for Japan. I saw him pitch in high school. So there was a long history,” the longtime scout said. “He did log a lot of innings, but he was the star of Japanese baseball for a long time.

“I thought he was one of the better pitchers in the world, internationally,” said Deeble, who also helped deliver Junichi Tazawa to the Red Sox. “He sat at 96-97 [mph] at the Athens Olympics. The good hitters, I would ask them the question, ‘What’s the stuff like?’ We had guys coming back and saying, ‘This guy is unhittable.’ ”

Matsuzaka had his moments. He finished fourth in the 2008 Cy Young voting after going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and major league-best .211 batting average against. The year before, he won 15 games while pitching 204 2/3 innings, going on to win Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

But even when the pitcher was going good, there seemed to be a level of discomfort. The organization battled to have Matsuzaka pound the strike zone more, pitching to contact instead of nibbling on the corners. (He had the second-most walks of any American League pitcher in his first 4½ seasons.)

But besides any uneasiness regarding the pitcher’s routine, or a drop in velocity, Deeble did notice a significant difference in the pitcher he watched emerge as one of the best in the world.

“He was one of the best I’ve seen,” Deeble said. “I saw him sitting at 94-96 consistently, year in and year out. The one thing I saw in Japan was that he had a really good split. In fact, I thought one of his best pitches was his split. I’m not sure that translated in America. That had to do with the [larger] ball a lot, I would think. I noticed early on he would take a lot of time taking the shine off the ball, rubbing the ball. I think that was a big factor, not seeing the split he had, because I believe that was probably his best pitch.”

As Matsuzaka heads into free agency this offseason, it’s still difficult to decipher what his future holds. Despite continuing struggles — as has been evidenced by a 1-6 mark and 7.68 ERA since returning from Tommy John surgery — there are some who feel it would be worth trying to see if the 32-year-old can find some of his old panache.

Count Deeble in as one of those optimists.

“I think he’s going to come back and if he has a good offseason, I think he’s still going to have some value, if not with us, with somebody else,” the scout said of Matsuzaka, who has battled a neck problem since returning from Tommy John surgery. “I sort of put him in the category of where [fellow Tommy John patient] Tazawa was in spring training. Just knowing him, and knowing the competitor he is, I think he’s an able major league pitcher somewhere. I would love to see him stay pitching with us.”

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