05/09/07 4:27 AM ET
Dice-K back on the hill
Boston (21-10) at Toronto (13-19), 7:07 p.m. ET
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
How many times have two pitchers from Japan faced off against each other in a Major League game? This will be the fourth.
Hideki Irabu led the Yankees to a 10-1 win over Seattle's Mac Suzuki on May 7, 1999. Tigers righty Hideko Nomo downed Suzuki and the Royals, 2-0, on July 2, 2000. And Ohka led the Expos to a 6-3 win over Suzuki and the Royals on June 19, 2002.
The one certainty is that Suzuki, who last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2002, can not get the loss this time.
Don't expect Matsuzaka to get swept up in going against a countryman. His main focus is to get out of a slump that has seen the talented right-hander give up 17 runs over 16 innings in his last three starts.
Frustrated? Of course Matsuzaka is.
"He does carry some frustration with him because his expectations and standards for performance are extremely high," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "When a competitor falls short of that, put any name next to it, he's no different from any guy we have on our staff or our team. There's some frustration that's a little bit more evident [lately], but he wouldn't be human if he didn't show that."
Matsuzaka is hoping that a lengthy side session this past Sunday in Minnesota will provide the cure he's been looking for.
Is Matsuzaka trying too hard to live up to the hype?
"I don't know if it's about impressing others," said Farrell. "He is a tremendous competitor. He takes a tremendous amount of responsibility every time he takes the mound. He's well aware of the support that we have for him. I think there's been a tendency to be too fine, as I talked about before, particularly when we've given him leads. He's openly discussed and talked about not wanting to surrender a home run or a lead. Ultimately it's changed the pattern in which he's pitched and his approach. In some cases that has worked against him."
Despite Matsuzaka's struggles, the Red Sox have won the last three games he's started. As a team, the Sox are rolling. They will try to notch their 10th win in the last 13 games in this one. The Jays, meanwhile, have lost seven in a row to sink to the basement in the American League East.
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-2, 5.45 ERA)
Matsuzaka's early-season ERA continued a sharp upward climb after the Red Sox star rookie allowed seven runs, five walks and five hits in a make-up game against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday. Since his smash debut in Kansas City, Matsuzaka has yielded a decidedly less impressive 6.39 ERA in five starts, two each against Seattle and the New York Yankees. He faced Toronto at Rogers Centre on April 17, allowing two runs in six innings while striking out 10. TOR: RHP Tomo Ohka (2-3, 5.50 ERA)
This start could have huge personal importance for Ohka, who has more wins in the Major Leagues (50) than any Japanese itcher not named Hideo Nomo (123), but who isn't treated with nearly the same reverence in his native country as Boston's heralded Daisuke Matsuzaka. Ohka isn't exactly in top form for the showdown against his countryman, coming off Friday's 7-1 loss to the Rangers in Arlington in which he allowed seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings to a team that had never beaten him before. Ohka is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in two career starts against Boston, both made last month.
Player to watch
Dustin Pedroia appears to be out of his early-season slump. The second baseman is 7-for-10 on the road trip.
Official game notes On television
NESN On radio
WEEI-850 AM, Spanish Baseball Network (Español) Up next
Thursday: Red Sox (RHP Tim Wakefield, 3-3, 2.11) at Blue Jays (RHP Roy Halladay, 4-0, 2.28), 7:07 p.m. ET
Friday: Red Sox (RHP Julian Tavarez, 1-3, 6.48) vs. Orioles (LHP Brian Burres, 0-1, 3.71), 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 4-1, 3.28) vs. Orioles (RHP Steve Trachsel, 1-3, 3.70), 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.