Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MATSUZAKA LIVES UP TO HYPE

It's Only One Start, but the Japanese Rookie Looks Like an Ace

So far so good. In just his first -- and much anticipated -- Major League game, Daisuke Matsuzaka lived up to his advanced billing and all the hype. If he's anywhere near as good as he was today against the Royals, the Red Sox will get a nice return on their $103 million investment.

Matsuzaka struck out 10 in seven innings, leading the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Kansas City. But it wasn't just the ten K's that were impressive; Dice-K allowed just six hits. Striking more than one batter per inning, and allowing less than one hit per inning, is one hell of an introduction to the Major Leagues.

Matsuzaka threw an array of pitches, including fastballs, changeups and breaking balls that frustrated Kansas City hitters. During one stretch, Matsuzaka retired 10 batters in a row, striking out the side on just 14 pitches in the fourth. And despite the cold, blustery weather, Dice-K consistently threw in the mid-90s, reaching 95 mph on the scoreboard radar gun.

The Japanese rookie seemed unfazed by the 36-degree game-time temperature, or the 200 members of the media watching his every move. He never caved to the weather or the pressure, throwing 74 of his 108 pitches for strikes. Sure this was just the lowly Royals, but how can you not be impressed?

Jonathan Papelbon picked up right where he left off last year, striking out two of the three batters he faced for his first save. That's all the more reason for confidence and optimism.

The Red Sox got their first win after an Opening Day loss, and the "sky is falling" segment of Red Sox Nation took a collective sigh of relief and can now relax -- at least a little. There are 160 games yet to go, and if the Sox win 60 percent of them, they'll wind up with 97 victories. That would be considered a very successful year, and almost assuredly qualify them for the playoffs in October.

At this point, with a #3 pitcher who looks like he's got the stuff of a #1, that possibility is more than remote; in fact, it's quite distinct. The key is keeping everyone, or mostly everyone, healthy. That may be a lot to ask, but there's always the prospect of Roger Clemens joining the staff in the not too distant future or, barring such a dream scenario, Jon Lester being ready and available should someone fail or falter.

Assuming that Curt Schilling's rough start was just an aberration, the Sox rotation could be nasty and among the best in baseball. With a guy like Matsuzaka in the third spot of the rotation, how couldn't it be?

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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