Commentary

Matsuzaka back to drawing board

Red Sox starter walks eight one start after near no-hitter

Updated: May 28, 2010, 2:17 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was showered, dressed and ready to walk out the clubhouse door Thursday night when Daisuke Matsuzaka's personal interpreter Masa Hoshino stopped the captain at his stall.

Matsuzaka joined the conversation moments later.

It was clear the trio was discussing Matsuzaka's outing, in which the right-hander suffered the loss as the Kansas City Royals defeated the Red Sox 4-3 at Fenway Park. He had lasted only 4 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on two hits. The problem, however, was that he matched a career high with eight walks and posted only one strikeout. He also threw a wild pitch and hit a batter.

[+] EnlargeDaisuke Matsuzaka
AP Photo/Charles KrupaDaisuke Matsuzaka gave up only two hits Thursday, but five walks in the fifth inning did him in.

It was another Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act for Matsuzaka.

He had pitched one of his better games in his previous outing, Saturday against the Phillies, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning en route to a 5-0 victory.

After a previous bad outing, Matsuzaka said he had finally figured something out but did not want to share it with the rest of the baseball world. He had found success, but the biggest question was whether he could find the consistency to repeat it.

"If I were him, coming off his last outing, I would feel good about myself," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said prior to Thursday's game. "Now you've got to go out and make your pitches."

Matsuzaka couldn't accomplish that.

He held the Royals scoreless for the first four innings to extend his streak to 12 scoreless innings before he allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

"He seemingly lacked command pretty much from start to finish tonight," pitching coach John Farrell said. "He did a great job pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth, but the walks in the end were catching up to him, and then we had to have the bullpen come in early to bail him out."

Matsuzaka, who began the season on the disabled list with a neck strain, admitted after the loss that he had felt some discomfort in his lower body since his previous start.

"I think between these two starts I had noticed a little bit of soreness there, but I didn't have any problems with my side session so it wasn't at the forefront of my mind going into my start tonight," he said. "Also, I knew that during my pregame warmup tonight, my pitches felt great but I just couldn't make the necessary adjustments."

Those adjustments, or lack thereof, were evident to Varitek.

"He'd have it for a click, and then [he wouldn't]. He was still powerful," Varitek said. "Usually you can find one or two pitches with him that can kind of slow him down, but he had a hard time slowing down. He was pretty amped."

In the fifth inning alone, Matsuzaka issued five walks, the most by a Red Sox pitcher in a single frame since Darren Oliver gave up five in the second inning on May 11, 2002.

This wasn't the kind of starting pitching performance the Red Sox were hoping for from Matsuzaka. As much as his near no-hitter energized the club, Thursday's outing was demoralizing, especially against the Royals.

"In my good outings, I can throw the ball without overthinking too much and still be able to pitch well, with a clear mind," he said. "But when things are going bad, no matter what I try to get out of it, things just can't click and I can't build that momentum. But in general, I know I can't be overly conscious of that; I still need to pitch. As for tonight, I just need to look back on my performance, find those bad elements and hopefully clear them out before the next one."

Reliever Joe Nelson replaced Matsuzaka in the fifth and surrender one run in the sixth, which proved to be the difference. After that, Manny Delcarmen worked two perfect innings and Ramon Ramirez retired the side in order in the top of the ninth.

Nelson took the blame for the loss, saying the rest of the bullpen did its job.

"Ultimately we lost by a run, and I gave one up," he said.

Despite Matsuzaka's inconsistencies, there's not a different feeling in Boston's bullpen on the nights he starts.

"He struggled a little bit today, but when stuff like that happens, you've got to be ready for pretty much anything and pick each other up and try to keep us in the ballgame," Delcarmen said.

That didn't quite happen, and Matsuzaka couldn't produce in consecutive outings as he dropped to 3-2 on the season.

Well after almost every other Red Sox player had gone home, Varitek and Matsuzaka kept their conversation going in the corner of the clubhouse. It was clear Matsuzaka was looking for answers.

Prior to their conversation, Varitek was asked what Matsuzaka could do to overcome his inconsistencies.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I know he'll do the work to try to figure it out," Varitek said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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