PAWTUCKET — If Daisuke Matsuzaka made what he dubbed a “small mechanical adjustment” prior to taking the mound for the fifth inning Wednesday night, it’s news to both PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur and catcher Dan Butler.
“Whatever tweak he made, he made on his own,” stated Sauveur on Thursday, one day after Matsuzaka delivered what could be coined a mixed bag of an outing.
There was good Matsuzaka – four scoreless innings in which he retired 12 of 13 Scranton batters – following by bad Matsuzaka, the damage pertaining to the five runs (four earned) he yielded in the fifth.
In Butler’s eyes, if Matsuzaka opted for a different approach, it was hardly detectable.
“Rich and I were talking, saying there wasn’t much of a difference,” Butler replied when asked about Matsuzaka’s Jekyll & Hyde act that spanned 5 1/3 innings. “It wasn’t like his stuff got worse or he was missing off the plate. I just think (the fifth inning) was one of those frames where it was the third time around in the order and (Scranton) had a better feel for him.”
Following his 10th appearance with the PawSox this season, Matsuzaka explained why he felt the need to deviate from what had been working in his favor.
“After the fourth inning, I saw my pitch count, I saw it was low and can’t exactly say what I changed but I changed something. And that might have had an effect on what happened,” said the Japanese import through interpreter Jeff Cutler.
Sauveur did say that whenever a pitcher like Matsuzaka pays the minors a visit, the final numbers are generally a secondary concern.
“When he pitches down here, his job isn’t results. It’s about health,” Sauveur explained. “Five of the six innings that he pitched, he pitched real well.”
The pitching coach also supported the suggestion that while Matzuaka’s fifth inning may have looked ugly, one has to examine and take into account how everything unfolded.
“Other than a few pitches that were up in the zone … he walked the first guy in the inning on a close pitch followed by the hit by pitch. The you have the double, the single (a two-run ground ball that snuck through Matsuzaka’s legs) and the throwing error (which Matsuzaka was charged with),” was the play-by-play Sauveur offered. “It was ugly because it happened back-to-back-to-back, but I have to explain what happened when I do my (postgame) report.
“Was he up in the zone? Maybe a little, but he came back (in the sixth) and got the first two guys out before he walked a guy and we took him out,” Sauveur continued.
While Sauveur broke down that fateful fifth, Butler offered up a detailed scouting report about the Matsuzaka who mowed down the Junior Yankees in the early innings.
“He had a good four-pitch mix. His fastball was down in the zone and he was hitting his spots. He had a good cutter too before mixing in a curveball and slider,” said Butler, who has served as Matsuzaka's minor-league catcher on three occasions. “He was going right after guys and they were either late on his fastball or out in front of his cutter. He was around the zone so much that all his stuff played.”
Matsuzaka pronounced that he’s over his latest malady – he’s been on the disabled list since July 3 with recurring neck stiffness – and feels that if the Red Sox decided to activate him sooner rather than later, he would be ready to answer the bell. Of course that belief came prior to Wednesday as Boston manager Bobby Valentine announced to the media in Baltimore that Matsuzaka would make at least one more start in a PawSox uniform.
From Sauveur’s vantage point, he believes Matsuzaka can still yield dividends at the big-league level.
“At some point this year, he’s going to pitch for Boston,” Sauveur said. “Can he contribute? Of course he could.”