- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- You can clearly point the finger in this one, and it was obvious which digit Boston Red Sox fans were using Monday night.
Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was simply awful again, and the Tampa Bay Rays took full advantage of the right-hander, pounding Boston into oblivion en route to a 16-4 victory Monday night at Fenway Park.
Matsuzaka allowed seven runs on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts in only two innings, plus two batters in the third. He surrendered two home runs and finished with 47 pitches, 32 strikes.
The Japanese import dropped to 0-2 this season with a 12.86 ERA. With the loss, Matsuzaka extended his career-high winless streak to seven starts, dating back to Sept. 7, 2010.
Matsuzaka hasn't been consistently good since 2008, and his struggles are beginning to take a major toll on Boston's rotation. Even pitching out of the No. 5 spot, there are too many questions as to what type of outing he's going to give the Sox every time out.
"He came out in the first inning and threw a lot of strikes," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I know [Johnny] Damon hit the first-pitch fastball for a home run, but it looked like he was trying to establish fastball and breaking ball.
"We got into the second, and everything went to the middle of the plate. There was one walk, but seven balls were hit right on the barrel. You love when guys throws strikes, but there were balls that were down the middle for seven hitters."
It was a disgusting display of pitching.
Matsuzaka was making his 100th career start with the Red Sox, and he entered the game with 544 career strikeouts and 46 victories. The only Red Sox pitcher since 1919 with more strikeouts in his first 100 games with Boston is Roger Clemens with 646.
Clemens, Boo Ferris (55), Tex Hughson (50) and Mel Parnell (47) are the only Red Sox pitchers with more wins through 100 games.
The majority of Matsuzaka's wins, however, came in his first two seasons in Boston when he posted a 33-15 record in 61 starts. He made only 12 starts (4-6) in 2009 because of a slew of injuries, and he continued that pattern last season, when he was 9-6 in 25 starts.
He's simply been too inconsistent, something Francona acknowledged Monday.
"The best way to be a good player is to be consistent," Francona said. "You can have some bad nights, but there are a lot of nights where you don't quite know what's going to happen. We've seen a lot of nights where there are inconsistencies in the strike zone -- in and out. Tonight he was right down the middle. They squared up a lot of balls in a hurry."
Even Matsuzaka admitted his first two starts of this season have been similar to his subpar performances from 2010. He knows things need to change.
What makes Matsuzaka's awful performance worse is the fact it piggybacked a masterful outing by fellow starter Josh Beckett, who worked eight scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts in a 4-0 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday night.
Matsuzaka had a chance to give the Red Sox some momentum against the lowly Rays, but failed miserably.
"You show up early and you're excited for the game, and then in the second inning you're in survival mode so you don't ruin the bullpen," Francona said. "[Tim] Wakefield and [Alfredo] Aceves stay out there long enough where we didn't ruin the bullpen. But that's a tough night."
It was evident during the postgame news conference that Matsuzaka's pride took a major hit. He thought long and hard before giving an answer to each of the half-dozen questions, especially when asked to describe what happened.
"Josh showed great pitching and I wanted to bring the flow to today's game," Matsuzaka said. "But as you can see, the result didn't follow through and I feel sorry for the team, as well as the fans."
The fans showed their displeasure and booed Matsuzaka as he walked off the field after facing only two batters in the top of the third inning.
"Nobody wants to get booed by the fans," he said. "The only way I can change this is to show a good result in front of the fans."
After an outing like Monday's, there is concern about Matsuzaka's health. Both the pitcher and manager said there are no issues. But the last time Matsuzaka pitched this poorly was on April 14, 2009 at Oakland, when he allowed five runs on five hits and was pulled after one inning. Following that game, Matsuzaka said he was fine, but the next day he was placed on the disabled list.
In the first inning, Matsuzaka allowed only Damon's solo home run. But things completely fell apart in the second. He faced seven batters before registering an out and allowed six runs on six hits. In the top of the third, he faced only two batters before he was lifted.
Afterward, Matsuzaka said he was trying to be aggressive and pound the strike zone.
"I didn't have enough life to get the batters out," he said.
Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a similar scouting report from the starter's outing.
"We were mixing pitches up, but they got too much of the plate," Saltalamacchia said. "They like to swing the bat. They got some big hits."
After Matsuzaka exited the game, he watched a video of his outing in the clubhouse and said he has noticed a clear difference between when he pitches well and when he struggles.
When he was done watching the game, he sat at his locker in an almost comatose state, similar to how he acted after Game 3 of the 2007 ALCS in Cleveland when he allowed four runs on six hits, including a home run, in only 4 2/3 innings against the Indians.
Francona was asked following Monday's game how his starter was handling his rough start.
"It better be OK. We've got a long season," Francona said. "I don't think he's very happy tonight."
The total ERA of Boston's starting rotation this season is 7.24, and if you subtract the recent stellar outings by Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, that number skyrockets to 10.25.
"How many times do you hear people say, 'Momentum goes as far as your next day's starter.' It's true," Francona said.
"Beckett pitched as good a game as you're going to see, and then we're in the second inning and we're swimming upstream. That's a hard way to put anything together. Now, the good news is Lester's tomorrow."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is testing the patience of Terry Francona and the Red Sox.