Matsuzaka impressive vs. Marlins
Right-hander communicates with Varitek to escape jam
JUPITER, Fla. -- By no means is Daisuke Matsuzaka a master of his second language just yet. But the Japanese right-hander is obviously a quick study.
When Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek walked out to the mound in Tuesday's second inning, Matsuzaka was in a jam. The Marlins had runners on second and third with one out and the count was 1-2 on Scott Seabol. In English, Varitek asked Matsuzaka for a front-door slider.
Matsuzaka nodded affirmatively and then went to work. Not only did he understand what Varitek asked him to do, but he buried the pitch, striking out Seabol looking.
"Well, I just wanted to give him an awareness of what I thought he needed to do right there," said Varitek. "He actually understood me, which I wasn't sure, but we still went through the finger signs to make sure. He made a good pitch."
And make no mistake about it, that pitcher-catcher communication was the most relevant moment in Matsuzaka's first exhibition start against a Major League team. Over three innings, Matsuzaka allowed two hits, walked one and struck out three. Of his 47 pitches, 31 were strikes. Matsuzaka didn't allow a run.
Communication is going to be essential to his early-season success, and that's why Varitek and Matsuzaka have been putting so much time into it.
"I put it where he told me to throw it and that was the result," said Matsuzaka through his translator. "I think that particular pitch was a typical example of how I'm going to need to work with Varitek, confirming my pitches, confirming my deliveries as we go forward. As for the pitch itself, maybe I'm not overly happy with it, but I know it's something I can work on and feel encouraged about."
After the key strikeout, Matsuzaka got Eric Reed on a first-pitch, bunt popout to emerge unscathed.
When Matsuzaka gets in a jam, he doesn't treat the situation lightly, even in Spring Training.
"This being my first year, I'm trying to focus on if I allow a runner to get on base, then to keep them there and prevent them from scoring," Matsuzaka said. "That's sort of exactly how I'd like to go on to the regular season as well. If I do get myself into a tight situation like I did in the second, I'm sort of really focused on holding the runners and finishing out the inning."
That's a trait that will suit Matsuzaka well, no matter what country he's pitching in.
Fresh off his two shutout innings against Boston College four days ago, Matsuzaka once again broke out his entire arsenal of pitches.
According to a scout stationed behind home plate, Matsuzaka's fastball ranged from 91-93 mph. His curve was between 74-77 mph. The slider stayed between 81-82 mph. Matsuzaka's changeup fluctuated between 76-81 mph.
When he departed, the Red Sox led by a score of 1-0.
Matsuzaka's next start will come on Sunday at City of Palms Park against the Orioles.
"I thought his velocity was good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Again, it's his second Spring Training outing. I thought he came off a couple changeups, but overall I thought he really threw the ball pretty well. He had to work out of the stretch a little bit, which was good."
As good as the end result seemed, Matsuzaka made it clear that like a lot of pitchers this time of year, he's far from at his best.
"I think it's something that my degree of readiness for the season is very difficult to judge from the outside," Matsuzaka said. "It's something I really have to understand within myself. To give you an estimate of where I rate myself, I'd probably say I'm 40-50 percent there."
The Marlins had a different take on the matter.
"I'm glad he's in the American League," said Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
"His slider is nasty," Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo. "With men on, he works faster."
The moment Matsuzaka needed to be quickest on his feet came when Ramirez scorched a line drive back through the box. Matsuzaka, making like a hockey goalie, produced a neck-high, glove save.
"I've been working with the manager and the coaches, doing a lot of infield practice," Matsuzaka said. "I think you saw the result of that practice paying off today."
The day was a success in the minds of all the vital parties.
"It was good," said Varitek. "I still think he's progressing, just like all the other pitches. He made some really good pitches today, threw some really good changeups, threw some really good sliders."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.