Perfectionist Matsuzaka perfect fit in Boston
Ken Rosenthal / FOXSports.com
Posted: 21 minutes ago
SARASOTA, Fla. - Adam Dunn couldn't wait to face Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"I just hope he's the best I've ever seen," the Reds' slugger said before Monday's exhibition game, half-sarcastically.
"I want to walk out of there saying, ‘I just got dominated.' That's what I want to feel today."
"You do, and you don't," the Reds' Jeff Conine interjected.
"I do because of all of the hype," Dunn replied. "I don't because I want to light him up."
Well, Matsuzaka responded by pitching five hitless, scoreless innings in the Red Sox's 5-0 loss to the Reds.
The most incredible part?
His outing was a disappointment.
Matsuzaka was so disgusted that he issued five walks and threw 104 pitches, he declined to meet with reporters afterward.
Talk about assimilating quickly.
With his first official major-league blowoff, Matsuzaka is well on his way to joining the long line of Boston pitching divas, from Roger Clemens to Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling.
"This time of year, I think the content of my pitching is more important than the results on paper," Matsuzaka said in a statement issued through his interpreter. "I'm not happy with the content of my pitching today."
"I threw a lot of walks and wasted balls. It was tough on my fielders to defend and get into a good rhythm on offense. It's something I want to pay attention to in the regular season."
Something evidently got lost in the translation: Matsuzaka surely wasn't responsible for the Red Sox's offensive futility.
Then again, when reporters asked Sox manager Terry Francona what Matsuzaka expected of himself, Francona said without hesitation, "Perfection."
Heck, it's what everyone expects, given the $103 million that the Red Sox spent to land Matsuzaka.
And it's not going to happen.
"We've got to be careful not to pick him apart so much," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said.
"He is human. He's going to have days, like any pitcher, when he does not have total command."
Monday was one of those days — and the Reds still couldn't touch him.
Matsuzaka issued one walk in each of his five innings, but only one runner advanced to second — and that was on a passed ball.
Scouts have clocked him at 96 mph this spring, but his high on Monday was 93 and he mostly pitched at 90 to 91.
That is, when he even showed his fastball.
"To me, what is most impressive is that he can make the ball break with three different depths and throw those three on both sides of the plate," Farrell said.
Matsuzaka didn't do that consistently Monday, but several Reds compared him to their own Bronson Arroyo, noting the way he pitched "backwards" by throwing breaking balls early in counts.
Reds first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who began his career with the Red Sox, said that catcher Jason Varitek actually apologized to him in the middle of one at-bat that Matsuzaka began with three straight sliders.
"Sorry, Hatty," Varitek said, "this is the way he pitches."
Hatteberg got ahead 3-0 in that sequence before eventually flying out, but hitters will be shaking their heads all season.
Matsuzaka throws six different pitches, sometimes even more. He impressed the Reds even without his usual command.
Hatteberg: "You've got to be aware of his fastball. He kind of hides it. He throws it when you're looking off-speed."
Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr.: "We didn't get any hits so obviously he did something. He's a guy who thinks his way through an order, knows what he wants to do."
Manager Jerry Narron: "Anybody who can change speeds on their off-speed stuff is going to be effective. And he does that."
Lest anyone forget, this is a pitcher who is changing cultures, a pitcher who is being followed by an enormous Japanese media contingent, a pitcher who must adjust to a five-man rotation after essentially pitching once a week in Japan.
Truth be told, he's doing exceedingly well.
Three times a week, Farrell, Matsuzaka and Japanese left-hander Hideki Okajima take 45-minute lessons in English and Japanese.
Farrell marvels at how rapidly Matsuzaka is learning baseball English — dates, times, numbers and body parts, plus terms used to discuss workloads and mechanics.
A few days ago, Farrell asked Matsuzaka in Japanese how many pitches he wanted to throw in a bullpen session.
"Forty," Matsuzaka replied, in perfect English.
Matsuzaka also is adjusting to his new baseball environment, curtailing his throwing sessions in preparation to pitch every fifth day.
Is he everything that Farrell expected?
"In some ways, a little bit more," Farrell said. "His presence and composure on the mound have been remarkable."
"It's been a pleasure to see him in person," Francona said. "You can see all the video you want. But in person, you see some things you can't see on video. And there are probably some things we haven't seen yet.
"He's going to have to adjust. But there's no reason he can't adjust. He's got good stuff."
It was apparent Monday.
It is apparent every time he takes the mound.
"He's got an idea," one scout said. "I'll be shocked if he doesn't win 15."
Ken Rosenthal is FOXSports.com's senior baseball writer.