Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list Sunday with a mild strain in his pitching shoulder.
He should have gone on the DL with a mild (or major) brain-strain. Or maybe a strain in his $100 million contract, as in the Red Sox are straining to cope with the fact that they have already forked over about $75 million for Matsuzaka and still owe him another $25 million.
Regardless of how Red Sox fans feel about him, Matsuzaka is one of the most interesting players in baseball. During the offseason prior to the 2007 season, Matsuzaka was very much alike the character portrayed in the Dos Equis commercial, as his reputation was expanding faster than the universe.
At 26, MVP of the World Baseball Classic, and the national hero of Japan, Matsuzaka really was the most interesting man in the world.
So the Sox ponied up $51 million for the rights to offer Matsuzaka a contract, and after a great deal of Theo Epstein and Co. finagling with uber-agent Scott Boras, not to mention massive amounts of (butt)kissing to the Japanese media and public, and another $50 million later, the Sox got their man.
Although never obtaining completely smooth sailing, Matsuzaka enjoyed a great deal of success during his first two years in Boston. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 while winning 15 games and helping the Sox to their fourth World Series title in four years.
He followed that season up with a sparkling 18-3 record and a minuscule 2.90 ERA in 2008 which placed him fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Matsuzaka racked up more strikeouts (355) and a better winning percentage (.688) than any other starter during his first two seasons in the big leagues.
Everyone knew that a Matsuzaka start was never going to be as smooth or as dominant as a Josh Beckett start, one thing was apparent about Matsuzaka: He simply knew how to win games.
Despite leading the league in walks, and only tossing five innings more than what is the minimum requirement to qualify for the ERA title, he lead the league in lowest opponent batting average and always got out of tough jams.
Unfortunately, the luck, or aura of Dice-K being Dice-K, finally wore out. If it were not for the Yankees Chien-Ming Wang, Matsuzaka would be the worst starter in the major leagues this season, with a 1-5 record and a 8.23 ERA.
So how has somebody who has, in his first two seasons, compiled a 33-15 record and a 3.72 ERA all of a sudden become the rest of the A.L.'s whipping boy?
While this article is not about the inevitable failure of import pitching, the answer to that question comes from major league coaches and catchers not being satisfied with having a Japanese pitcher throw Japanese starts in an American ballpark.
They want Matsuzaka, who they feel has enough talent to be Beckett or Jon Lester, to start pitching like somebody who has been in the big leagues for 2+ seasons.
For anyone who has watched him pitch, particularly this season, and compared those performances to the WBC, it is clear that Matsuzaka is scared of major league hitters. He is scared of giving up the big hit, or the home run, and for two seasons, his style was to pitch around hitters. After enduring this for two season, the Sox have made him start attacking hitters.
The only problem is, despite his success, Matsuzaka has no confidence in his pitches and the result is one meatball after another down the heart of the plate.
Matsuzaka does indeed have a strain, but it is north of his shoulder. The Sox are planning on keeping him from pitching in the big leagues for quite sometime, because even without him, they still have a logjam in the rotation. If he does not sort out the problems in his head, he may find himself pitching in a Japanese ballpark again.
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