04/28/07 5:13 PM ET
Notes: Words of advice for Dice-K
Red Sox urge right-hander to trust his arsenal of pitches
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The words, whether they come from manager Terry Francona, pitching coach John Farrell or catcher Jason Varitek would be this: "Trust your stuff."
If there has been a common thread to Matsuzaka's recent outings, it has involved the right-hander getting too conservative at certain points of the game. Take, for example, Friday night, when he walked the teeth of the Yankees batting order (Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui) to load the bases with nobody out in the fourth.
Matsuzaka was clinging to a 2-0 lead at the time, something that was not lost on Farrell.
"I think last night was a little bit of a carbon copy of the game in Toronto," Farrell said. "When we've given him an early lead, I think there's a tendency for him to be overcautious and work too hard to protect that lead."
There's a fine line, as Farrell noted, between trying to hit your spot and trying to be too pinpoint.
"What I mean by working too hard is that he thinks and delivers every pitch so it has to be perfect, or just to exact locations," Farrell said. "When you pitch too fine and work too hard, inevitably you're going to run into deep counts, you're going to fall behind in counts. To me, he just needs to continue to trust his stuff with more general location rather than just trying to be so specific. He's got tremendous stuff and multiple weapons to attack hitters."
And as loaded as the Yankees are offensively, they were hardly ripping the cover off the ball during the one rough patch Matsuzaka hit.
"You kind of get a chance when the game is over to look back and slow it down, because you can't when the game is going," said Francona. "That bad inning, he walked three, which is not good. Then after that, there were no balls that were squared up. [Derek] Jeter does what he does so well, he fights the ball off to right field. [Jorge] Posada dunks one in front of Manny [Ramirez]. Johnny [Damon] gets his bat head to it and serves it into right. They weren't, like, taking hellacious swings and knocking the ball out of the ballpark. The walks put him in a bind."
It is clear that Matsuzaka is a perfectionist who demands more out of himself than any team member of fan could.
"He mentioned to John Farrell last night, it's kind of funny, and I don't have the exact words, but it was something like, 'Hey, bear with me now, stay with me'. OK, that will be tough to do," quipped Francona. "It's funny how guys look at it. They're so conscientious that sometimes it can almost hurt your performance."
Next up for Matsuzaka will be the Mariners on Thursday night at Fenway Park.
Timlin getting closer: In Francona's mind, one of the most unheralded stories from Friday's game was the work of setup man Mike Timlin, who turned in one of his sharpest outings of the season.
It has been a steady climb back for Timlin after missing most of Spring Training with an oblique injury. In allowing one hit to the Yankees over a scoreless seventh inning, nine of Timlin's 11 pitches were strikes.
"Timlin's a huge part of our bullpen," Francona said. "We want him to be a huge part of our bullpen. He didn't have much of a Spring Training, and he's coming off kind of the first time since I've known him, a tough second half of the year. We're trying to get him into a little bit of a rhythm. We've all seen what he can do when he's good. He threw the ball very well last night."
Papelbon plan: Francona vowed in Spring Training to be careful in his use of closer Jonathan Papelbon and, thanks in large part to the way the games have gone, the plan has been executed to near perfection over the first month of the season.
Papelbon pitched in just eight of the first 23 games, a span in which the Sox went 15-8. He's been used on back-to-back days twice and he's gone more than one inning once.
If not for Boston's four-run explosion in the ninth on Friday night, Papelbon would have been used for last call. He had already been warming up in the eighth inning. Once the Red Sox bumped the lead to 11-4, Francona could cool Papelbon down and go with Joel Pineiro.
"Even when it was a five-run lead, we've already got Pap loose," Francona said. "It's not like we don't trust Pineiro. But at some point, if a couple of guys get on, we've got to get Pap up again. So we were actually going to pitch Pap until we got [to a six-run lead] just because we didn't want to take the risk of warming him up again. It worked out great. We got more runs and we got to pitch Pineiro."
Ellsbury lighting it up: Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is Boston's best position prospect, is off to a sizzling start at Double-A Portland.
In the first 15 games of the season, Ellsbury is hitting .455 with 13 runs, 10 doubles, two triples and six stolen bases.
"He's going crazy, that's good," said Francona.
Still, the manager will leave it to others to project when Ellsbury's time might come to shine in Boston.
"I hope we win today," said Francona. "How many games into the season is he? It's a great start to a good young player. That's what he needs to concentrate on and I don't need to be the player development guy. Just try and get [Tim] Wakefield's knuckleball over the plate today."
Step by step with Lester: After turning in another strong rehab outing -- this one at Triple-A -- Lester will make at least one more start for Pawtucket on Wednesday. Though the rehab clock expires after that outing, Francona cautioned the media not to simply assume Lester will rejoin the Red Sox after that.
"He'll go through rehab and then we'll see where he goes from there," Francona said. "I think [the media] might be getting a little ahead, though. From listening to your questions, it might be jumping the gun a little bit, which is a shocker."
All kidding aside, Francona was highly encouraged to get the report on how Lester threw the ball on Friday.
"It seemed like probably his best performance yet," Francona said. "[Velocity-wise, he] kind of pitched at 91 [mph], got up to 93 [mph], against kind of a veteran Triple-A team, which is good. I think everybody was real pleased. It seemed like his command was pretty solid."
On deck: Julian Tavarez, who hasn't been able to get in a rhythm in his first three starts, takes the ball for Sunday afternoon's finale of this three-game set. Chien-Ming Wang makes his second start since coming off the disabled list to pitch for the Yankees. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.