Dice K Shut Down; Red Sox Pitching Surplus Works Itself Out

E ASenior Analyst IJune 24, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 9: Daisuke Matsuzaka #18 of the Boston Red Sox prepares for a game with the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park April 9, 2009, in Boston, Massachusetts. The Rays won the game 4-3. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Finally, the news coming out of Boston is good. After dominating the MLB with an 18-3, 2.90 ERA performance in 2008, the Red Sox knew something was wrong with Dice K this year.

Coming back from another great performance at the World Baseball Classic, which has been thoroughly dominated by Japan in it's two contests since inception, Red Sox fans were hopeful that Dice K would be able to build on last year's numbers.

The only problem was the World Baseball Classic.

Since the Red Sox were not able to monitor his preparation or his workload for and during the tournament, Matsuzaka, who missed out on Spring Training this year, came to the team neither mentally nor physically prepared for the regular season.

Because of this lack of preparation for the season, Dice K has struggled immensely. Of course with this slump come those who have been against Dice K all along, saying how he is overrated, a bust, and this finally proves it.

The numbers certainly support that argument, as Matsuzaka hasn't had a quality start all year, in eight tries. In fact, he hasn't even been able to pitch out of the sixth inning in any of these starts. Dice K is 1-5 on the season, and the Red Sox are 2-6 overall when he has pitched this season.

The big inning has also killed Dice K this year. In only one of his starts has he not allowed two or more runs in any given inning. In just his second start of the season, Matsuzaka pitched only one inning and gave up five runs.

In his next start against his Mets, his first start off a stint on the disabled list, Dice K had a good thing going. Through three innings, he had allowed no walks, one run, and struck out three. Then, following an implosion in the fourth, in which he faced eight batters, walking one, the Mets added three more runs.

In these eight starts, Dice K has allowed eight home runs, amassing an 8.23 ERA. Batters are hitting at a robust .378 against the Japanese import, who has allowed nearly as many runs across the plate (32) as batters he has struck out (34).

Certainly starting off on a slump, Dice K was bound to turn it around. I mean, David Ortiz did, didn't he? With not having shown any signs of turning around in the last month since being taken off the disabled list, it is crystal clear that something is wrong with him.

After undergoing an MRI which revealed no structural damage in Matsuzaka's shoulder, the Red Sox have shut him down to the 15-day disabled list, classifying his injury as a "mild shoulder strain."

Daisuke is believed to be heading to the team's Spring Training facility in Florida to start rehabilitating his arm.

"This is not going to be a two week DL," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "We're going to have to figure this out. We have a lot of work ahead of us trying to get him back to being Daisuke."

While referencing the World Baseball Classic in connection to Dice K's woes: "We never were really able to get that foundation, and he's alluded to that, too," Francona said.

"We've got to try to figure it out, because it's obviously not working. He's trying to reach back and throw 93 [mph], but it's not there. As a result, he's not locating. It's been a chore. (...) It's hard. I just think if we had a chance to ramp him up in our Spring Training, we'd feel a lot better."

This comes with perfect timing for the Red Sox, who still have a plethora of pitching depth. Brad Penny will most likely come off the trading block now, as he had little trade value anyways.

Everyone in the starting rotation will get to keep their spot with John Smoltz set to make his Boston debut on Thursday. Originally it was speculated that the Red Sox would either go with a six-man starting rotation or use either Smoltz or Tim Wakefield in a long relief role.

Now Wakefield, who has been a very clutch pitcher for the Red Sox this year, gets to keep his starting spot as he looks to tie Roger Clemens and Cy Young for the record of most wins in a Red Sox uniform (192).

The Red Sox look to be getting the vintage Smoltz despite the major shoulder surgery he has gone through in the last year. He has rehabbed well, and found great success in his Minor League assignment.

Pitching for all three levels of the Minors on his road to recovery, Smoltz has compiled a 1-1 record along with a 2.63 ERA and .80 WHIP in six starts. In 27 innings, Smoltz has fanned 21 batters, walking just four.

Smoltz joins the first place Red Sox just in time for the crucial stretch run, and he will become the No. 5 starter in a loaded Boston rotation, which looks to shape up as one of the best in the league as Beckett and Lester are pitching brilliantly.

As the grizzly veteran makes his long awaited debut on Thursday, he gets a bit of a break in his return to the Major Leagues, as the Red Sox take on the league-worst Washington Nationals.

If Smoltz struggles, the only pitchers who could take his job now are Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden, as Matsuzaka is expected to be shut down for the rest of the season as he tries to regain strength in his throwing arm and work out some bumps in his mechanics.