- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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It was the second time this spring Matsuzaka was scheduled to toss a bullpen session after stiffness in his back forced him to shut it down earlier in camp. Since Wakefield was done for the day, he could have left City of Palms Park, but he was more interested in Matsuzaka's progression.
Wakefield sat on a bench in the bullpen area and watched Matsuzaka throw 65 pitches.
Both Wakefield and Farrell were impressed by what they saw.
"He worked his butt off this winter. He looked great coming into spring training. He looks like he's in shape," Wakefield said. "I watched him throw today and he looked great."
Farrell was encouraged too, and depending how Matsuzaka feels on Monday, the right-hander will throw his third bullpen on either Tuesday or Wednesday. If he continues to progress, he will then throw a live batting practice session on either Friday or Saturday, and if that all goes according to plan, it's possible Matsuzaka could throw in a minor league game next.
"I'm encouraged from the standpoint he threw 65 pitches and used all of his pitches in the bullpen," said Farrell. "Right now it's more of refining the timing in his delivery and establishing a release point on each individual pitch as opposed from a health standpoint that he's not feeling anything, which he is not. It's encouraging from that standpoint, he's into progressional bullpens and ultimately to batting practice."
In order to have a better understanding of how Matsuzaka is throwing, Farrell stood in the batter's box and acted as a left-handed hitter. Every time Dice-K spun a breaking ball, Farrell would nod his head in appreciation for the pitch.
"Certainly not in-season form, but the fact he's manipulating the baseball and putting different spins on the baseball are all encouraging that there's no restrictions from the upper back issue he was dealing with," Farrell said. "Today, again from a volume standpoint, and being able to use different pitches, it was a positive step."
Matsuzaka was still throwing when Wakefield decided he had seen enough.
"He looked fine," said Wakefield. "I think his back strain early in spring training held him back a week or two. If he can command the strike zone, he's got all the pitches to be very successful here."
Matsuzaka was successful his first two seasons with Boston but missed the majority of last season with shoulder problems. He combined for a 33-15 record in 2007 and 2008, but was limited to only 12 starts in 2009, when he posted a 4-6 mark. His health issues began after the World Baseball Classic in March in which he pitched for Japan, won the MVP of the tourney and helped his county defend its title.
There were times last summer when Matsuzaka would show his frustration and he even commented in an article by a Japanese magazine about his disappointment and lack of communication with the Red Sox.
If there's one pitcher on the Red Sox's staff that knows about disappointment and frustration, it's Wakefield. He was having a solid season and posted an 11-3 record prior to the All-Star break until a back injury limited him to only four starts in the second half of the season. He finished with an 11-5 record.
Starting pitchers want to be productive, but when they're hampered by injuries, the team suffers.
"It's frustrating. I went through it the entire second half last year," said Wakefield. "I was still able to be here and try to help the team, but it's frustrating. Knowing you can help, you go into survival mode. [Matsuzaka's] situation was a little bit different than mine. The WBC affected him the whole year. It's tough. You want to play for your country, but to go from pre-spring training to 100 percent is not right. I think they need to change the rules on that."
If Matsuzaka had been healthy last season, it's possible the Red Sox could have had a different outcome. Boston finished second to the Yankees in the AL East by eight games. His Red Sox teammates aren't blaming him for a disastrous 2009, they just want him healthy and productive for 2010.
"As long as he's healthy and doing good, that's all you can really ask for. If he's healthy, throws strikes then he's very effective," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "There would be no reason for him to apologize to us. You can't do anything about injuries. It's part of the sport. Hopefully he'll bounce back, have a great year and help us out."
Even though Farrell said on Friday that there's an outside chance Matsuzaka will be ready for the start of the regular season, the Red Sox do not want a repeat performance of last season, so they will not rush him along.
After he was done throwing on Sunday, Matsuzaka had a brief conversation with head trainer Mike Reinold before heading out to the field to shag during batting practice. Dice-K stood at second base and pretended to turn a couple of double plays with shortstop Marco Scutaro -- another sign the pitcher is feeling good.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
16hEthan Sherwood Strauss