By Maureen Mullen
BOSTON Bearing little resemblance to the pitcher who took the mound in his last outing on April 11, Daisuke Matsuzaka mowed down the Blue Jays Monday in what could arguably be his best performance in a Red Sox uniform.
In seven innings, Matsuzaka held Toronto scoreless, allowing just two base runners on a walk and a hit while striking out three. He needed just 89 pitches (58 strikes) to get through his outing against a very aggressive Jays lineup, as the Sox won the finale of their nine-game homestand, 9-1.
The two baserunners match his major-league low in 101 career appearances. On April 1, 2008, he also allowed just two baserunners, over 6 23 innings, in Oakland. In that game he allowed one run, throwing 91 pitches.
"He threw a lot of strikes," manager Terry Francona said. "There were a couple of points in the game where they got aggressive early in the count. There was one five-pitch inning. I just thought he filled up the strike zone. It didn't always go where he wanted to but it worked ahead. If they start narrowing the zone a little bit, their swings obviously become a little bit different.
"He changed speeds, the differential on his changeup was good. He gave up the base hit up the middle. Other than that, there was one walk. Well take that all the time.''
Matsuzaka rebounded from what was arguably the worst start of his career. On April 11, he lasted just two innings (plus two batters in the third) against the Rays at Fenway. He gave up seven runs on eight hits with two walks, two strikeouts, and two home runs. In the second inning, he faced 10 batters, giving up six runs, with the first seven reaching base before he could record an out.
Besides changing the skill for pitching, the biggest difference from the last outing was changing the way of thinking of pitching, especially mentally, Matsuzaka said through a team interpreter. "I tended to have a little bit of a negative aspect and I tended to think many thoughts from listening and hearing people. So the biggest thing is I tried to not think too much about my outings.
"All I can do is pitch the best and the result will follow through after showing the best performance. So the time between the last game and today's game I had time to think about it and tried to think more simple and I tried to think simple in practice and as I was getting ready for today's game."
With his outing Monday, Matsuzaka improved his record to 1-2, cutting his ERA in
half, from 12.86 to 6.43. After his previous outing, Matsuzaka believed if he had had a similar performance Monday, he may lose his spot in the rotation.
If I pitched badly, I thought there wouldnt be another chance, he said.
Pitching coach Curt Young was not concerned about any lingering negativity for Matsuzaka after his last outing.
As long as Dice-Ks been pitching, you get in that class, these five guys are really good at turning the page and moving on to their next start, Young said. So, he definitely too that in. Thats kind of how, when youre in the class that his, thats what good pitchers do.
With two outs in the first, Matsuzaka gave up a single to Jose Bautista. With two outs in the second, he allowed a walk to Travis Snider. After that he retired the next 16 batters he faced, before giving way to Alfredo Aceves. That 16-batter stretch is the longest he has gone in his career without allowing a baserunner.
He needed just five pitches to get through the sixth inning, striking out Jayson Nix on three pitches all looking and getting Yunel Escobar and Corey Patterson to hit first-pitch fly outs.
His performance Monday improves his career record against Toronto to 7-1 with a 3.46 ERA.
One motivator for todays outing was John Farrell, the Red Sox former pitching coach in his first-year managing the Blue Jays, Matsuzaka said.
On the mound . . . I dont really think about the other opponent. I focus on each
pitch to make sure its strong enough, he said. But, I also knew that Farrell is on Toronto so I want to show a solid performance in front of him.
Matsuzaka was paired with Jason Varitek against the Blue Jays. In his outing on April 11, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was behind the plate.
Before the game I had a chance to talk to Varitek and I agreed with what he said, Matsuzaka said. He told me to focus and throw right to his mitt. I know he tried to help my pitching.
The right-hander got better as his outing went on, Varitek said.
I think he was still getting his delivery in the first, Varitek said. He got away with a few pitches and then was able to work his way from there but he was better in the first. Location was better than it was in his prior two outings and then he settled in. He had a pretty good cutter today, had decent life on his fastball, had a tough feel for his slider for a long time and then we were able to find some spots to get him comfortable with it. Threw some good changeups.
Most important thing he stayed down when we wanted him down and up when we wanted him to go up. I think sometimes its the hitters too. Able to make some pitches in hitters' counts and they got some balls put in play.
Matsuzakas pregame anxiety over possibility losing his spot in the rotation was quickly assuaged.
After I changed my mentality, I tried to throw the best pitch and believed the result would follow, he said. After that thought, my mind was clearer and
I was able to focus on the game.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen