Red Sox

Matsuzaka earns 50th career win in second return from DL


Matsuzaka earns 50th career win in second return from DL

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka knows what everyone says about Tommy John surgery. You'll throw harder afterwards. Assuming everybody's body reacts differently, and whether or not that will eventually be the case with Matsuzaka, Red Sox pitching coach Randy Niemann knows exactly why he was able to pick up his first win of the season on Monday afternoon.

"As he's progressed along, I think his fastball has gotten a little better," said Niemann after Boston's 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. "And again, maybe not velocity-wise, but there's a life to his pitches, that, when you're back to full strength, there's a finishing life to him that I think he's gotten back. Evidence is, the hitters when they swing at it. It's not as easy to square the ball up. I'm seeing more and more of that with each outing. Every time that he's had a chance to be out there for us, I'm seeing more and more of that."

So it wasn't the velocity of Matsuzaka's fastball on Monday, it was the life and movement on his fastball, especially when the ball reached the hitter.

Matsuzaka returned to the Red Sox in June after fully recovering from Tommy John surgery. He then went back on the DL in July with a neck injury, only to make his second return on Monday.

"When I returned back in June, and I didn't get the results I wanted to, I thought for a moment that I wouldn't be able to pitch a game like today, this season," said Matsuzaka through his translator after Monday's win. "But I got back to my rehab and my last two rehab starts in Pawtucket went really well. I felt really good. And I knew that if I was able to pitch like that up here, the results will come.

"When I had to go back on the DL, back in July, it was very discouraging. Especially since I didn't expect my body to respond the way it did. But the encouraging part about that was, it wasn't my elbow. My elbow was feeling fine. So, despite not being sure whether I'd be able to come back strong this season and pitch a game like I did today, I was able to work at it, and the results eventually started to come."

Those results came in the form of 101 pitches in seven innings against the Royals. He allowed just one run, though it was unearned, walked two, and struck out six while giving up five hits.

It was exactly what the Red Sox needed.

"I saw a good pitcher who used all his pitches," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the win. "I thought the 2-ball, 1-strike count turned the game around about five times, where he was able to throw his breaking ball for a strike. And I thought he had good control of his cutter, on the outside part to right-handers. He got hit a couple times back-dooring to left-handers, but you know, he gave us what we needed. 100 pitches, seven innings, five hits. That's a good outing."

Valentine believes that Matsuzaka has the ability to finish the season "strong" if he throws like he did today. For Matsuzaka, that will be a good thing, more so for his own impending free agency, than it will for a Red Sox team that is essentially out of the playoff race.

But, I guess you can't tell him that.

"I've actually never experienced going into free agency, even in Japan," said Matsuzaka through his translator on Monday. "So I don't know exactly what to expect in free agency. I'm not really thinking about that at all. Right now, I'm more focused on the playoffs, and figuring out how I can contribute to the team and get the team in a position where we can be competitive."

In reality, the only thing Matsuzaka will be pitching for -- from now until the end of the regular season -- is a new contract. And if he can continue what he did on Monday against the Royals, somebody will give him another one.

It just might not be the Red Sox.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.


The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.


Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.


A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.


We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.



Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers


Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.


Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.