Matsuzaka aces big-league debut
Royals impressed by Japanese sensation's repertoire
KANSAS CITY -- After just one start, John Buck believes Daisuke Matsuzaka is ace-quality.
Mixing several pitches for consistent strikes, Matsuzaka delivered a terrific performance in his Major League debut against the Royals on Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. The Japanese phenom struck out 10 hitters over seven innings and allowed just one run in a 4-1 Red Sox victory.
Matsuzaka threw fastballs, sliders, changeups, cutters and several pitches that the Royals couldn't identify during his outing.
"Usually all of the No. 1's are guys who can do that," Buck said of Matsuzaka's arsenal and pinpoint control. "They have the ability to have three or four pitches, so even if they make a mistake they can get swings and misses.
That's kind of the stuff that he has."
Other than leadoff man David DeJesus, no other Royal had more than one hit. DeJesus singled to left to start the bottom of the first and homered just inside the right-field foul pole in the sixth.
What was the pitch he hit out?
"I think it was a gyroball," DeJesus said with a laugh. "I know a gyro is a Greek sandwich. No, it was a fastball inside and I hit out. I hit a line drive and I didn't think it was going to go."
No one saw the mysterious gyroball from Matsuzaka, but they did see 74 strikes among the right-hander's 108 pitches. Rarely did the right-hander fall behind or seem discombobulated. He tossed any pitch at any count at any time -- including a variety of off-speed pitches.
"He threw everything today," DeJesus said. "I didn't know what to call them, or what was what, but he definitely has a variety of pitches and can throw most of them over for strikes and that's what makes him pretty tough."
It comes down to his offspeed stuff. When he locates it down and away or if it's moving in on you, we don't know if it's a slider or a cutter, so it's hard to classify by what pitches they are because they are moving in different ways."
Matsuzaka's outing was the first time a pitcher had reached double figures in strikeouts in his Major League debut since the A's Aaron Harang struck out 10 Devil Rays on May 25, 2002.
After the game, five Royals -- Buck, DeJesus, Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen and Tony Pena -- were asked how Matsuzaka pitched to them. They all gave different answers and they named different pitches.
"There is quite a few," Buck said. "Every pitch I saw was an offspeed pitch first pitch. There was no set pattern. He threw seemingly anything and everything on the first pitch. I am sure he threw every pitch first pitch at one point or another.
Teahen said Matsuzaka seemed to mix his fastball with more frequency as the game progressed.
"To me, he didn't throw too many fastballs, he threw more offspeed," the right-fielder said. "He maybe showed a fastball late. He seemed like he was trying to mix it up though. Early in the game, he seemed like he was trying to finish guys off with a fastball and then later in the game, he went to it more often."
Pena had more trouble with the unique windup of Matsuzaka.
"After [Curt] Schilling and [Josh] Beckett, they have a regular motion, so you start to pick it up and ... you start seeing the ball better," he said. "He was mixing his pitches pretty good and for me, it was a little bit of timing, so he had his pitches going and we just had to be ready for next time."
After allowing two baserunners in the first inning, Matsuzaka retired nine straight (five by strikeout) and 12 of 14 on a day when the game-time temperature was 38 degrees.
"He had kind of settled in and [was] throwing everything for a strike and mixing up the pitches," Gordon said. "He was cruising a little bit."
DeJesus offered two solutions to beating the right-hander, including trying to wait for a fastball.
I was able to see pitches and with him, the more you see, he likes to throw a lot of curveballs ... in different counts and that makes it tough, but I was able to see pitches and get a couple of hits.
If he throws everything over and everything is moving -- once you get that fastball that is a straight fastball -- that's what you want to take advantage of it."
Judging from Matsuzaka's first start, that may be hard to do.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.