Dice-K's struggles a mystery to him, Sox
Atlanta chases righty early in Boston's series-opening loss
BOSTON -- The slump of Daisuke Matsuzaka has reached a critical point at a time when the Red Sox are forced to make some decisions with both their roster and their rotation.
The Red Sox were hoping for a rebound effort from the struggling right-hander on Friday night, but what they got were several loud hits off the bats of the Atlanta Braves in an 8-2 loss.
Matsuzaka pitched four-plus innings, allowing eight hits, six runs and four walks. In his eight starts this season, Dice-K is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA. He has yet to turn in a quality start. Clubs are hitting .378 against him, which is startling when you consider Matsuzaka led the Majors in opponents batting average last year, holding them to a .211 clip.
In a sign that the Fenway Park faithful is getting restless with Matsuzaka, the pitcher was booed as he walked off the mound in the fifth inning.
"Everybody knows that I haven't been performing well, and as a professional, I have to accept when I get a reaction like that," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino.
So what do the Red Sox do with Matsuzaka from here? John Smoltz is scheduled to start on Thursday night against the Nationals, which would have been Matsuzaka's regular day to pitch. The Red Sox haven't announced a starter beyond that date, and manager Terry Francona felt no need to do so in the immediate aftermath of Matsuzaka's latest subpar performance.
"Never after the game -- we never do," said Francona. "I think you make some poor decisions that way. We've got an off-day on Monday. We'll certainly sit down [and discuss it]. We have the ability to be a little flexible in what we do going forward. Saying that, I don't know if it makes a lot of sense to do something before the off-day. We'll see where we line up after that."
Dice-K's thoughts on the matter?
"If I keep going like this, I have no right to be part of this rotation," said Matsuzaka.
Though Matsuzaka's latest rough outing was the most obvious storyline of the night, Boston also struggled mightily with the bats. The Red Sox had been shut down by Braves right-hander Kenshin Kawakami until the bottom of the sixth, when Jason Bay unloaded for a mammoth two-run homer that went over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street. All that did was cut Atlanta's lead to 6-2.
In fact, Bay had the only two hits of the game for the Sox. He also clubbed a double in the second.
"We stunk the last couple of nights," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "That happens. We didn't really do much of anything tonight. Thank God for Jason Bay, otherwise we would have gotten no-hit."
The man who shut the Red Sox down was another Japanese hurler in Kawakami. The rookie right-hander gave up two runs over six innings, walking three and striking out five.
"Some days, that's the way it goes," said Bay. "Two first-pitch fastballs that leaked back right in the middle of the plate, and I didn't foul them off and didn't miss them. Other than that, he obviously threw a pretty good game."
The night couldn't have gotten off to a more ominous start for Matsuzaka, as Nate McLouth drilled the first pitch of the game over the wall in right for a home run. Yunel Escobar followed with a single, Chipper Jones belted a double and Brian McCann walked, loading the bases with nobody out. Matsuzaka then forced in a run by walking Garret Anderson. Matsuzaka was at least able to minimize the damage, wiggling out of it with just a 2-0 deficit.
"I can't say for sure that I've never had a start of a game like I did today, but certainly since arriving here, it was probably the worst or second-worst beginning of the game that I've had," said Matsuzaka.
The right-hander settled down for a couple of innings, but he got right back into trouble in the fourth. It started with two outs, when Matsuzaka walked No. 9 hitter Kelly Johnson.
"I thought after the first inning, he got into a little bit of a rhythm," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "To me, it seemed like the key moment of the game might have been the 3-2 walk to Johnson with two outs. That led to an additional two runs."
McLouth followed with a double off the wall in center, bringing home Johnson from first. Escobar added a single, and the Sox were in a 4-0 hole.
Instead of settling down in the fifth, Matsuzaka got right back into trouble, giving up back-to-back doubles to McCann and Anderson. That was when he got the hook from Francona and the jeers from the crowd. A sacrifice fly by Casey Kotchman made it 6-0 Atlanta.
"First pitch, they came out swinging," said Pedroia. "First four guys reached base, and they were some hard-hit balls. Usually, teams kind of feel him out. They just came out hacking. He was throwing strikes, and they were hitting them around the yard."
So where does Matsuzaka go from here?
"I can probably say that never before have I faced such a tough time period, but I also believe that it has to end some time, and I have to do what it takes," said Matsuzaka.
The question is how he gets there and what type of pitching schedule he will be on from here.
"I've had tough moments in the past, but each time, I thought it out and tried different ways to get through it," Matsuzaka said. "Even if I couldn't see the answer right away, often I was able to push myself to work my way out of it. This time, I feel it's taking way too much time to break through, so now might be the time where I need to reach out for some advice and some help."
The Red Sox are eager to help the pitcher turn things around.
"Knowing how determined he is, knowing the work ethic that he has, he's disappointed, I'm sure, but at the same time, we can't forget this is a 33-game winner over the previous two years coming into this year," said Farrell. "We certainly have some work to do. Consistency of strikes, particularly with his fastball, is the primary target. We'll continue to work toward that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.