Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Matsuzaka's Meltdown Continues; Placed on DL

Daisuke Matsuzaka's season-long struggles continued Friday night.

In yet another dismal performance, Matsuzaka lasted just four innings, unable to record a single out in the fifth. After allowing consecutive doubles, he was mercifully removed from the game. In just four-plus innings, Matsuzaka gave up six runs on eight hits, and walked four; that's a total of 10 base runners, if you weren't keeping track.

Due to the rough outing, Matsuzaka has finally pitched himself out of the starting rotation.

Matsuzaka's ERA has now ballooned to 8.23 and he has zero quality starts in eight tries. He has yet to last more than 5 2/3 innings in any appearance this season. Now a woeful 1-5, Matsuzaka has yielded fewer than four runs in only two of his eight starts.

As Matsuzaka acknowledged after his latest loss, “If I keep going like this, I have no right to be part of this rotation.’’

That's the most accuracy he's had this season.

Manager Terry Francona apparently agreed, announcing that Matsuzaka is on the 15-day DL, and that there is no timetable for his return. Medical tests and an MRI have been conducted and the diagnosis has rather opaquely been described as a right shoulder strain. Perhaps this is the cause of his ineptitude, perhaps it's simply a smokescreen.

This season, Matsuzaka simply hasn't thrown strikes with any consistency and has no command of his fastball, which he himself acknowledged.

“I couldn’t get strikes with either my fastball or my breaking balls, and I had a hard time hitting my locations with any of my pitches," said Matsuzaka through his interpreter after the game.

The Japanese righty now admits that his troubles may be attributable to pitching in the World Baseball Classic for his native country.

Whatever the source of the problem is, Matsuzaka looks completely confused and lacking in confidence each time he takes the mound.

When the Red Sox invested more than $103 million to obtain Matsuzaka three years ago, they were sure they were getting an ace. Matsuzaka looks like anything but that this season.

In 2007, his first year in the Majors, Matsuzaka went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA. While the win total was impressive, the number of losses was less than desirable, as was the ERA. But a period of adjustment was expected and it was anticipated that Matsuzaka would get better with more experience against big league hitters.

And last year, at least on the face of it, that seemed to happen. Matsuzaka posted a remarkable 18-3 record to go along with an equally remarkable 2.90 ERA.

Yet there were reasons for genuine concern. Matsuzaka's innings per start dropped from 6.4 in 2007 to just 5.8 in 2008. The shortened appearances were a product of high pitch counts and a lack of command that led to 94 walks, fourth highest in the Majors.

The striking reality lurking underneath the flashy 18 wins was that they were achieved in the fewest innings ever thrown by any pitcher to have at least 18 wins. Ever. In the history of baseball.

Great things were expected again this year. Yet, there were concerns about what pitching in the WBC, with so little preparation, would do to Matsuzaka's arm and his season. Perhaps we now know.

So far this season, Matsuzaka has been impotent. It's simply painful to watch him pitch, and you can't help but feel bad for him. He's been highly successful at every stage of his career; high school superstar, star of the Japanese Pacific League, and two time MVP of the WBC.

But he's now facing the kind of adversity that is completely unfamiliar and foreign to him. This is unchartered ground for Matsuzaka. He is a stranger to failure.

At this point, it's impossible to find anything to feel optimistic about as far as Matsuzaka is concerned. Cumulatively, batters are hitting an astounding .378 against him, and he his 2.20 WHIP is nothing short of absurd.

Last season Matsuzaka allowed just 12 home runs the entire season; this year he's already given up eight long balls in just eight starts.

Yes, Matsuzaka won 33 games over the previous two seasons, the fourth most in baseball. However, of the 12 pitchers to win at least 30 games in that span, Matsuzaka ranks last in innings pitched.

At an average salary of just under $9 million per season, for a pitcher who is averaging just five innings per start over the past two seasons, Matsuzaka makes a ton of money for very little work. Perhaps that could be said of any professional athlete, but it's especially true with Matsuzaka.

I suggested in a previous post that the Sox might consider dealing Matsuzaka if the right offer was made. But at this point, any trade value that Matsuzaka previously possessed has now been ruined.

As of now, Matsuzaka doesn't deserve to be in the starting rotation, or on the staff for that matter. Some time on the DL, followed by a rehab assignment, could build his confidence, while helping him recover both physically and mentally. As I said previously, the big league mound is no place to try to work out a pitcher's issues, be they mechanical or psychological.

With John Smoltz set to make his Red Sox debut this week, the time for Matsuzaka to be replaced in the rotation has finally arrived.

The truth is, it's long overdue.

Copyright © 2009 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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