05/21/07 6:45 PM ET
Matsuzaka wins AL Player of the Week
Red Sox right-hander overcomes slow start with two victories
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Matsuzaka is establishing himself as one of the most dominating pitchers in the American League with each start that he makes. After opening the season with a 1-2 record, Matsuzaka has now won five of his last six starts.
He was rewarded on Monday for his most impressive week yet as a Major Leaguer. Matsuzaka was named the Bank of America Presents the American League Player of the Week for the period ending May 20. Over the seven-day stretch, Matsuzaka went 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 11 strikeouts in two starts.
Dice-K's week was highlighted by a complete-game victory against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers. In that outing, Matsuzaka allowed just one earned run on six hits while striking out five.
It was Matsuzaka's best start at Fenway Park this season, and the 26-year-old said after the game that he was happy to show the hometown crowd what he can do.
"The fans gave me a huge ovation, and that definitely pumped me up," said Matsuzaka through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "As for throwing a complete game, I'm not that thrilled about that in and of itself, but the fact I was able to pitch my first really good game, my first really good showing at Fenway, that, I'm really excited about."
After a slow start to the season by his standards, Matsuzaka has turned it around and is now 3-0 with a 1.87 ERA in his last three starts. He entered the week with a 4.80 ERA, but he has seen it drop to 4.06.
"He had a little bump in the road, as a lot of people do," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Some guys have it in August. He fought through it and worked hard. Now we're seeing the results of a lot of hard work and a really good pitcher."
Boston's powerful offense has helped smooth Matsuzaka's transition into the Major Leagues. Entering Monday's action, the Red Sox were second in the AL in runs scored with 232. Matsuzaka says that's one of the main reasons for his recent success.
"I think it's really due to the fact that our lineup has been hitting really well and giving me the opportunity to pitch at my own pace," Matsuzaka said.
Matsuzaka is so dangerous to opposing hitters because he has an ability to use a different pitching approach every time he takes the mound. If he doesn't have a good feel for one of his pitches, Matsuzaka can reach into his repertoire and come up with something else. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek says that was one of the things that helped Matsuzaka in his win against the Tigers.
"Every time he takes the ball, it's different," said Varitek. "He has so many pitches to work with. He came out of the bullpen with what seemed to be a good cutter. I talked to [pitching coach] John Farrell before the game because some of his other pitches, it didn't seem like he had a feel for. But he has so many pitches. We were able to mix and match the other pitches in there as the game went on."
This is the first weekly award that Dice-K has won in his short Major League career.
"It's a great honor to be chosen among so many great baseball players," Matsuzaka said.
Other candidates for the award included Matsuzaka's countryman, Mariners center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .577 with eight stolen bases; Rangers left fielder Victor Diaz, who hit .400 with four home runs and five RBIs; and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, who went 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 10 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Ian Browne contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.