Down at the Red Sox minor league complex in Fort Myers on Sunday morning at 11:00, Red Sox righty Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound for two innings against a team of minor leaguers from the Boston organization. It was the first time this spring that Dice-K faced live hitters in a game situation. Noticeably more fit, Matsuzaka breezed through his outing, throwing 32 pitches, 18 for strikes. He did not allow a hit. He walked one. The walk came in his first inning of work. He got the next batter to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. In the second inning, he induced three ground ball outs. The Sox had him throw ten more pitches to get near his pre-determined number of 30. He then threw several more pitches to catcher Luis Exposito in the bullpen.
Among those watching were Theo Epstein and many of the Boston front office. Ben Cherington, Mike Hazen and a host of others, some in uniform, some not eyed Matsuzaka with great interest. A throng of media, including roughly 50 Japanese reporters and photographers furiously scribbled down notes and clicked their cameras as his outing continued. Daisuke looked like he was mixing his pitches well against the over-matched teenagers on a cloudy windy Sunday morning.
Lots of Red Sox “royalty” on hand in their respective golf carts, including Frank Malzone, Luis Tiant and Tommy Harper. Former PawSox outfielder George Lombard, now a coach in the system, was all smiles as he talked about his new job. David Howard, the former major league infielder and friend of PGA Tour professional, Brad Faxon, is getting his feet wet in his new position, field coordinator for the entire minor leagues. Howard takes over for the affable Rob Leary, who, like Ron Johnson, has been promoted to the Boston staff.
After Matsuzaka finished, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said he was pleased- “The intensity level was clearly improved over his last bullpen session four days ago, so another positive step in the right direction for Daisuke.” Farrell added that he was happy with the mechanics he witnessed. “It’s more about getting some time on the mound, some repititions. He was much cleaner today. I think even in this setting, there was some adrenaline. He talked about being a little quick in his tempo of his delivery, but these are all the finer adjustments…getting back on the mound in a semi-live situation. I thought he threw the ball very good today.” Farrell said that Dice-K threw all his pitches, with his fastball clocked between 88-91 miles per hour. He will throw a bullpen session in two days, and although Farrell didn’t come right out and say it, don’t be surprised if Matsuzaka is the opening day starter for the PawSox at McCoy on April 8th. He said that the Sox try to add an inning to a starter each time they come out in Spring, ideally being able to throw 95 pitches by the time the regular season starts. From that point forward, they’d be on a five day rotation. According to Farrell, nothing is set yet. “It’s still early and there are a lot of decisions to be made. Not just for Dice-K, but for all our pitchers…He’s doing everything he can and making steps to factor in to that at some point.” Farrell seemed happy with the results. reading between the lines, I won’t be shocked if Matsuzaka breaks camp and heads up route 95 north to Pawtucket.