Matsuzaka experiments with O's
Righty not worried after yielding two Grapefruit League homers
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Baltimore Orioles represented far more of an experiment than a measuring stick. In April, things will be different for the prized new acquisition of the Red Sox.
But this is March, so Matsuzaka was basically undergoing a tutorial on the City of Palms Park mound on Sunday afternoon.
Despite not producing a scoreless outing for the first time in three starts, Matsuzaka still had a productive day. If the general public is concerned that Matsuzaka gave up four runs -- three of them earned -- over four innings, the pitcher himself knows better.
He's content to let everyone else hype him up. Matsuzaka is more concerned about making a smooth transition to life in the Major Leagues.
"This being a team in our same division that we're going to face many, many times, I thought I'd take the opportunity to experiment a little bit and see where they're going to hit the ball, see where they wouldn't hit the ball and that kind of thing," said Matsuzaka. "So the third and fourth [innings], I was definitely experimenting a little bit more."
After holding the Orioles scoreless over the first two innings, Matsuzaka surrendered a solo shot to Jon Knott in the third. There were three more runs in the fourth, one of which Matsuzaka helped create with a throwing error, and the others on a two-run blast off the bat of Jason Dubois.
This just in: he's human.
"I guess it was inevitable he would give up a run," quipped Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Again, starting pitchers, we want them to build arm strength, build endurance. This guy is no different. Again, he speaks a different language, but he's on the same program."
Matsuzaka seems to have a perfect view of the big picture.
"The fact that they hit a couple of home runs was not something that I'm terribly worked up about," said Matsuzaka. "There will be times where I get hit and they will score runs against me. Speaking psychologically, I'm not overly concerned about that."
More relevant to Matsuzaka and the Red Sox were his encounters with established players like Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons, Miguel Tejada and Ramon Hernandez.
"I was hoping that I could face a lot of the everyday players today, and when I saw the lineup card prior to the game, I was very excited," Matsuzaka said. "This is a team I'm going to be facing, so I was glad to face the everyday players in the lineup."
Key lesson learned?
"Yes, in the third and fourth innings, I was definitely throwing high up in the zone," Matsuzaka said. "Not every pitch was a high fastball or a high slider, but judging from what I experienced, throwing high fastballs and high sliders can tend to be a little bit dangerous."
Among his many other attributes, Matsuzaka is a quick study.
"Right now, it's just a total feel," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Like with a team like Baltimore, [we were] trying not to show them too much, but not trying to show them too little, either. We talked about some of his reads from the mound, they're the same reads from the mound that I had behind the plate, and that's a good thing, because that reminds me of my days with [Pedro Martinez]."
"I try to stay away from comparisons like that," said Francona. "This guy has a really good feel for the ball. You watch him in his bullpen session, he can make the ball do a lot of different things on both sides of the plate. When you draw up the game plan in the middle of the year, this kid should be able to execute a lot of different things."
In Sunday's outing, Matsuzaka threw 63 pitches, 40 of which were for strikes. He had three strikeouts, two of which came on gorgeous changeups to get Mora and Gibbons to end the first.
"[He needs to] just keep taking more steps, learning more and more -- try some different pitches, try some different stuff," said Varitek. "Still, you can see he's a very intelligent guy. We talked about some of the hitters. There's a couple of guys in the lineup we haven't seen before; we made a couple of mistakes to them, and those are the two homers. He's coming along just fine."
Up next for Matsuzaka is the Dodgers on Friday at Vero Beach.
The preparation started even before Matsuzaka met with reporters following Sunday's outing.
"Right after I threw today, I went and watched the videotape of my performance," Matsuzaka said. "Looking at it, I know there's a couple of areas skill-wise that I need to focus on, and those are the areas I'll be looking at going into my next start."
"Every time something happens, I think, it's a learning experience," said Francona. "That part is good."
It's especially good during Spring Training when the losses don't count.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.