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.”