- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Daisuke Matsuzaka said his pitching coach, Curt Young, "advised" him to throw more strikes Tuesday. Well, he got the memo.
Dice-K rescued his spring from the Grapefruit League crisis watch with five two-hit, five-whiff, one-walk shutout innings Tuesday, against the Tigers' "A" lineup. And afterward, his catcher, Jason Varitek, said it all started with the fact that he was able to locate home plate on his radar screen.
"He was able to establish himself today," Varitek said after the Red Sox's 2-1 win over Detroit in 10 innings. "He had a good mix. And it started with location first. And we were able to do different things after that. He was good today."
This was Dice-K's first start since adjusting his between-starts routine so that he wasn't throwing long-toss and bullpen sessions on the same day. And he said afterward that this game went so well, "I want to continue with this [before] my next outing."
But manager Terry Francona downplayed suggestions that the change in routine had a big impact in this start.
"I just think he pitched real well," Francona said. "I think long-term, the change in routine will really help, as far as just keeping arm strength. I don't know that that's going to help him throw strikes. I just think it was a mindset of pounding the strike zone. And he did a really good job today."
Matsuzaka entered this game with an 11.42 ERA and 17 baserunners allowed (12 hits, 5 walks) in 8 2/3 innings over three starts. But he was sharp enough to zip through 1-2-3 innings in three of his five innings Tuesday.
He allowed a ground-ball single to Victor Martinez in the second but escaped that inning easily. And his only trouble came in the fourth, when Magglio Ordonez singled with one out. Martinez then worked a tough two-out walk and a potential three-run Jhonny Peralta homer curled just foul. Jacoby Ellsbury also helped Matsuzaka out by running down a rocket to deep center by Miguel Cabrera. But Dice-K bounced back to get Peralta to tap an inning-ending ground ball to second. And after that, he never allowed another baserunner.
He threw nearly all fastballs over the first three innings, touching 93 mph on the gun, then mixed in the rest of his repertoire in his last turn through the order.
"He didn't throw a breaking ball 'til like the third or fourth inning," Varitek said. "But as that game went on, he got a good feel for his breaking ball, better feel of his cutter, started locating his fastball, threw a couple of good changeups in that last inning. I think it was probably a feel-good [day] for him. You've got to feel good when the ball comes out of your hand like that."
In fact, though, it wasn't just Dice-K who needed that feel-good day. It was all the people around him who badly needed to see a game like this.
"He's one of our pitchers," Varitek said. "And we want him to succeed. To see him go out there and the game's clean, the game's moving along, I mean, everybody needs nuggets once in a while. And that was a good nugget for him today."
Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.
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