PAWTUCKET – In true maddening fashion, Daisuke Matsuzaka nibbled and nibbled some more in his rehab start Monday, which saw the Pawtucket Red Sox post a 4-0 victory. Facing a free-swinging Rochester outfit, Matsuzaka lasted just 4 2/3 innings, with 49 of his 87 pitches going for strikes.
In many ways, his performance in a PawSox uniform was eerily similar to what he normally registered prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery nearly 11 months ago. His decision to dance around hitters instead of going right after them resulted in a short-lived outing that fell short of the “between 5-6 innings” threshold that PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler originally had in mind.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of room for growth heading into what would be Matsuzaka’s fourth rehab appearance, on target for Saturday night at McCoy Stadium against Columbus.
Matsuzaka is expected to return to Pawtucket perhaps as soon as Wednesday in hopes of staying on a normal five-day schedule – something that wasn’t the case as he went nine days between starts.
“Overall, I had about (three) walks and a lot of two-ball, three-ball counts which knocked up my pitch count,” said Matsuzaka, speaking through interpreter Jeff Cutler. “I really wanted to throw at least five innings, but it didn't happen, so I'm not really happy about that.”
While it’s easy to look at the final numbers and suggest that Matsuzaka is right on target in terms of being laborious and equally frustrating out there on the mound, it’s important to note that the pitcher is still dealing with some residual symptoms that likely go with the territory of coming back from major arm surgery. Touching upon the neck ailment that prohibited him from starting for Pawtucket last Friday in Toledo, Matsuzaka came across as a tad concerned when talking about his elbow.
"Overall, my body feels good, so that's fine, but my elbow, depending on the day – some days it feels better than others. Right now, I'm hoping when I start, it hits the day I'm feeling good,” Matsuzaka remarked. "It's a step-by-step process, a game-by-game process. I'll just go see how I pitch my next outing and see how that goes and see where I stand then."
Part of the discomfort stems from the travel load Matsuzaka’s logged since his 30-day rehab clock commenced April 23 with Single-A Salem. The Japanese import made a start with Double-A Portland four days later, which is when he says the discomfort in his neck first started acting up.
"Because of all the travel by car, all the flights, it caused my back to tighten up a little bit, and it came up to my neck," he said. “But after treatment for about three days with the trainers, I felt a lot better and there's nothing to be concerned with."
Matsuzaka wound up striking out four while issuing three walks. His high-water mark on his fastball was 92 miles per hour but generally resided in the 89-91 range. He registered just 1-2-3 frame, which occurred in the third inning when Matsuzaka needed just seven pitches and the Red Wings helped him out by recording two first-pitch outs.
Of the four punchouts, two were swinging and two were called, the latter taking place against the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters of Rochester’s to lead off the fifth inning.
"I didn't discuss with the catcher what kind of pitches I wanted to work on, but I ended up throwing a lot of two-seamers and it ended up being a good practice for that pitch," Matsuzaka said. "I was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches. That's what I wanted to do. That's why I was shaking the catcher off a few times.”
That catcher was Ryan Lavarnway, who felt pretty confident in the way he worked with Matsuzaka, his locker neighbor during spring training.
“We didn’t talk a lot verbally but we had a lot of non-verbal communication going on back and forth. It pretty cool to have that kind of rapport with someone right away, especially since I’ve never worked with him before,” Lavarnway said. “I appreciated the respect he showed me.”
Said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler, “It wasn’t like he was all over the place. The fastball had some bite to it and a lot of the swing and misses were down in the zone.”
Daniel Nava broke what was a scoreless game with a solo home run in the fifth inning. An inning later the home stretched the lead to four runs behind a two-run double by Alex Hassan.
Alex Wilson wound up receiving the victory after tossing 2 1/3 innings with Mark Melancon working a flawless ninth inning with three strikeouts. The victory was Pawtucket’s fourth in a row.