October 3, 2008


Feeling his way: Matsuzaka has handle on job; work remains (Amalie Benjamin, September 30, 2008, Boston Globe)

The numbers are stark. Matsuzaka won 18 games this season, with a 2.90 ERA. Those would normally be Cy Young quality if not for the incredible season from Cleveland's Cliff Lee.

But Matsuzaka's season has been quiet in some ways, overlooked in some ways. There is a type of agony in his starts, as well.

Over and over the game reached the fifth inning, and there was Matsuzaka, already with 100 pitches. He was ready to keep going, often with just three or fewer hits on his stat line. But his coaching staff is not so forgiving, which is why he barely qualifies for the ERA title (one inning pitched for every game played by the team).

"It's always been my mind-set that even if I allow runners on base, whether it's a hit or a walk or an error, as long as I don't let them score, that's OK," Matsuzaka said. "I've always felt that way. That hasn't changed since last year.

"As it's been pointed out, I know that pitch count is an issue for me. Even if I allow runners on base through hits or walks, I want to hold them, prevent them from scoring. But at the same time, I know I need to keep my pitch count down, and that's always been an ongoing area of improvement for me. In the games that I start, I'm aware that I'm putting strain on the bullpen at times, and I always feel guilty about that."

Just 12 starters since 1901 have amassed at least 18 wins with 200 innings or fewer in one season, though Matsuzaka would have had more than his current innings total had he not spent three weeks on the disabled list. Beyond even that, there are only three who have done it with ERAs less than 3.00. That would be Pedro Martínez, who won 20 games in 2002 with a 2.26 ERA in 199 1/3 innings, and Urban Shocker, who won 18 in 1927 for the Yankees, with a 2.84 ERA in 200 innings.

And now Matsuzaka, who will start Game 2 against the Angels Friday night.

"There are times when he doesn't want to give in to the hitter," Valentine said. "He wants to have the hitter get himself out if he will. If hitters don't bite and it comes down to the time of reckoning; the true time of reckoning is the bases loaded with a 3-2 count. What looks like trouble to some isn't trouble to others.

"He grew up being the guy who would pitch until the game ended, no matter what the pitch count."

The great mystery of Dice-K continues to be why a guy with such great stuff and supposed self-confidence continues to be afraid to throw strikes to major-leaguers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 3, 2008 8:56 AM
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