June 2011

Buchholz might not pitch until after All-Star break

Clay Buchholz conceded before Wednesday night’s game against the Phillies that his next start might not be until after the All-Star break.

Thanks to a lower back strain, Buchholz hasn’t pitched since June 16. He had held out hope a few days ago that he could return on July 4 at Fenway against the Blue Jays, but the righty no longer seems confident he can make it back that soon.

“[I’m] probably set back a little bit,” Buchholz said. “I’d rather come back after the All-Star break and be healthy, if that’s the case, unless something happens that what we’re doing is going to make it feel better in the next three or four days and then I could look at pitching when we get back home. I want to make sure I’m ready for August and September. If something happens and I go out and pitch and feel 80 percent, then this happens again and I have to go back on the DL, that’s not what I or, I don’t think the team wants. That’s where we’re at right now.”

A couple of days ago, Buchholz went out and threw with hope that the back issue would be cleared out. But he could tell it wasn’t.

“Just going out and throwing, I wanted it 100 percent gone before I pitch again and it was still there,” said Buchholz. “I definitely didn’t think it was going to be there like it was. Yeah, I expected to go out and throw … I didn’t expect it to be completely gone but it just didn’t get better as quick as I thought it was going to so that’s where we’re at right now.”
Buchholz and the Red Sox both think it is pointless and unproductive for him to try to grind through the injury at this point. As it is, it has lingered since late last season.

“Hopefully I can get this out of the way and come back at 100 percent and not have to worry about it for the rest of the season and hopefully it’s gone forever and I’ll never have to worry about it. That’s the outlook I have on it right now,” Buchholz said. “I’m sort of disappointed the last couple of days after I threw a couple of days ago. There’s nothing I can do about it except keep treating it and hopefully it gets better.”

In the meantime, Buchholz is happy that the Red Sox have pitchers like Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves at their disposal.
“We have depth, so that’s a good thing. Someone else can take the ball and I can feel like there’s not any fall-off,” Buchholz said.

Old Home Night at Fenway

Is this a baseball game or a family reunion? There is definitely a different feel tonight at Fenway, where Adrian Gonzalez is playing against the Padres for the first time and Anthony Rizzo — one of the centerpieces of the trade — is making his Fenway debut against the team that drafted him and helped him through his recovery from cancer.

Then there is Dave Roberts coaching first base, Jed Hoyer back in town as Padres GM and Jason McLeod, the mastermind behind the drafting of Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard etc., back as San Diego’s assistant GM.

“It’s old home week,” Francona said.

One fact is that it will be special for Dave Roberts and the Red Sox every time he walks into Fenway Park for the rest of his life. Roberts now coaches first for the Padres.

“If it wasn’t for Dave, you’d be talking to somebody else [instead of me],” quipped Francona.

There is also a human interest element to the return of Roberts, as he recently overcame lymphoma, undergoing his treatments at the Jimmy Fund.

“It’s great. Obviously, I’m in a different capacity. I’m not playing for the Sox. I’m not coming here for treatments. I’m a coach now. But it’s fun. I’m trying to live through these guys and let them know how special this place is,” Roberts said.

As for the low-key Gonzalez, he took the day for what it was. And then he bashed a hard single to left in his first at-bat.

“Yeah, I had lunch with a few of [my ex-teammates], we hung out a ltitle bit. We walked to the ballpark. It was a good afternoon. Now it’s about playuing the game,” said Gonzalez.

Rizzo, on the other hand, figured to have a lot more in the nerves department.

“My emotions? I don’t know. It’s a blessing in disguise, maybe, that I’m playing here with everything they helped me through. Just going to come out and try to play good baseball,” Rizzo said.

It was one of those nights when everyone was happy to see each other. Francona put it best.

“This is kind of a win-win for everybody,” Francona said. “To get Gonzi, you’ve got to give up some pretty special people and he certainly is and has a chance to be, not just as a player but as a person. He’s a pretty solid kid.”

Dice-K at career crossroads

For the first time since his decision to undergo Tommy John Surgery, Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka discussed his situation with the media — first American, than Japanese — in the clubhouse this morning.

It’s hard to believe all the fanfare that come with Dice-K’s arrival in Boston. Remember all the bloggers who were tracking the progress of his flight back to Boston after his dramatic signing? Remember the 300 or so people at his first press conference? The story was as heavily-covered as anything I’ve seen during my time covering the Red Sox.

Let’s face it, he was a fascination, after a brilliant career in Japan.

In those first two years, Matsuzaka was never quite the No. 1 starter many built him up to be, but he was still pretty effective. There was a 15-12 season during Year One, which included good spurts, bad spurts, and ultimately a happy ending. Matsuzaka won Game 7 of the ALCS, and Game 3 of the World Series, and it seemed the adversity he overcame in that first season would lead to better things in Year Two. And that is exactly what happened. Matsuzaka went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008, with an amazing ability to get himself into trouble with walks and get out of those jams with big pitches.

The first severe downward turn came in 2009, when Matsuzaka went back to the World Baseball Classic. Communication between the trainers from Team Japan and the Red Sox was shaky at best. Manager Terry Francona was openly worried that Matsuzaka would hurt himself and the team’s chances that season by not following the type of program the team had in mind. So Matsuzaka won that World Baseball Classic with Japan, and for the second time in as many tries, he was the MVP. But he came back toward the end of Spring Training not in good physical shape.

To put it kindly, the 2009 season was a disaster for Matsuzaka. He made just two ineffective starts before being placed on the disabled list with what the team called a mild right shoulder strain. Matsuzaka returned five weeks later and nothing changed. He was mostly ineffective again, and back on the DL following a disastrous start against the Braves on June 19. This time, Matsuzaka was put on the DL for a prolonged stint, in which the club mandated he get to Fort Myers and get his entire body in better shape.

Matsuzaka missed nearly three months, returning to Fenway on Sept. 15. To his credit, he came back far thinner and pitched well in his four starts at the end of that season. The Red Sox were swept out of the Division Series, and Dice-K never pitched.

He was said to have a great winter following that season, and was driven to have a bounceback year. But there was a problem right away, as Matsuzaka’s back acted up on him in the Spring, and he missed the first month of the season. There were flashes of brilliance, but a whole lot of inconsistency from Dice-K in ’10. He finished the year 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA.

Then, on to this year. He was horrendous in his first two starts, and it seemed as if everyone was going to wave their hands in the air and consider him a failed experience. Then, one last tease. Matsuzaka put together perhaps his best two Major League outings in a row, firing seven one-hit innings against the Blue Jays and hurling another one-hitter — this time over eight innings –in Anaheim. So Dice-K was back, right? Nope. Then came the April 29 start at home against the Mariners, when his control was all over the place and he left the start with elbow woes. In hindsight, that is when his UCL started to deteriorate. He pitched three more times, once out of the bullpen, and wasn’t effective in any of those games.

And now it’s on to surgery, and you wonder if the 30-year-old Matsuzaka will ever have the type of success in the Majors that many forecasted.

Matsuzaka had few answers on Sunday morning.

“It’s actually my first time to get an operation and all I can say is I’m very shocked when it comes to these results,” Matsuzaka said.

Can you return to the Red Sox before your contract ends?

“It’s difficult to say at this point. But, you know, what I can do is do my best and come back to the game as soon as I can,” said Matsuzaka.

How tough is this? “It’s difficult, but what I can do is do my best and come back to the game as soon as I can. All I have right now is anxiety, so all I can do is do what I have to do my best, and come back to the game.”

Why the surgery and not rest and rehab? “The ligament is torn and I was told to fix it perfectly, I need to have the surgery. That’s why I’m getting the surgery.”

How do you summarize your time in Boston?  “I don’t think of it that way. For sure, I hope I come back to the game again with the Red Sox uniform. If I wouldn’t come back to the game, I will have to talk about that next time.”