Dice-K to make postseason debut
After roller-coaster year, righty ready to write new chapter
BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka is in the ideal spot to find success in his postseason debut Friday night.
After Josh Beckett's dominating performance in Wednesday night's 4-0 Red Sox win, Matsuzaka has a chance to put the Angels in a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five series.
The Red Sox rookie right-hander, who is so much more than a rookie given his international success as well the success he enjoyed as a member of the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball, is in a good slot to pick up a "W" in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Matsuzaka went 3-4 in the final 10 starts of his up-and-down 2007 season that saw him finish at 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in 32 starts. But he looked sharp in his final start against the Twins on Friday, when he allowed two runs on six hits while walking two and striking out eight.
In addition, Dice-K will be well rested after six days off and he'll be pitching at Fenway Park, where he went 8-4 with a 4.86 ERA in 14 starts this season. Perhaps most important is the fact the Angels will be seeing him for the first time this season.
Matsuzaka fared decidedly better in games when he pitched against a team he had not faced. In 16 such starts, he went 9-6 with a 3.14 ERA, 36 walks and 116 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings.
Much of that can be attributed to the many different looks Matsuzaka throws at opposing hitters.
"I think when you first face a pitcher, there's probably a slight advantage to the pitcher, just in picking up release points, picking up spin on a ball, picking up where the ball is breaking," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "If it's a late break or more of a slurve, what is his arm speed like? There are only so many things you can pick up in the batter's box; you need to be in the batter's box to pick those up.
"So we're going to make a quick study and see exactly what's happening. You know his tendencies on what counts -- that's easy. But still, to hit the ball and to pick it up and lock in on a pitcher, it's going to take -- well, you can't substitute. You're going to get in the batter's box and see it, so we'll have to make a quick study."
Francona doesn't expect Beckett's success to impact what Matsuzaka does Friday night.
"Well, if Daisuke wants to, [he can] throw 97 [mph] with cut, a curveball ... and a really good changeup," Francona said. "I think Daisuke's considered a rookie by Major League standards, and he's definitely had a lot thrown at him for the first time, but he's not a rookie. He's a pretty established professional pitcher. He's just had a lot thrown at him this year, that is. I mean, it is the way it is, and we're thrilled to have him, but we knew he was going to go through a lot of firsts. I mean, culturally, baseball, everything. And he's handled it very well.
"But I think we all enjoyed watching what Beckett was able to do. Now we've got to move on and take care of business [Friday]."
Matsuzaka's past shows an ability to pitch well in big games, notably the World Baseball Classic in March 2006, when the best hitters in the world looked like they'd seen a ghost every time they faced him. He won each of his three starts for Japan, while posting a 1.38 ERA en route to winning Most Valuable Player honors.
Given the reputation Matsuzaka made for himself in Japan, in addition to his performance in the Classic, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has more than a passing interest in whether Matsuzaka can turn it up a notch in October.
"I'd say more than curious," Francona said. "I think that has not been an issue with us. I think we have enjoyed watching the way he has handled certain things that have been thrown to him. And we've all seen the bumps in the road, the hiccups in some of the outings. But being intimidated or shrinking from a challenge won't be one of them. We feel that is really one of his strengths. And he's got a lot of them, but I think this stage will be a good place for him to show what he can do."
Matsuzaka believes his past is something he can play forward.
"I feel that because of those experiences, I will be able to approach this game with the same approach and mentality that I've been able to approach my games during the regular season," Matsuzaka said.
Despite those past experiences, the Major League postseason will write yet another new chapter in his professional life.
"Almost everything was new to me this year, so every experience I had, I felt, I decided early on that it was going to be a learning year for me," Matsuzaka said. "Now that I'm at the very end, I just feel that I want to go into this game in the best shape that I possibly can."
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell echoed Matsuzaka's sentiments by noting what a learning experience he went through, but he is encouraged by the direction in which Matsuzaka is headed.
"His first time through a Major League schedule has presented both physical and mental challenges, but I think he endured," Farrell said. "And the fact that he pitched like he did the other night [against the Twins], it gives him the ability to go into the postseason with his confidence in a good place. He still, to me, is pitching very strong from a physical standpoint, and I think that he's just come to understand how his assortment of pitches is most effective. He has done, I think, as we had hoped he would."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.