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One, Two, Three

February 21, 2011

YOU GUESSED IT—THREE MUSINGS ON THE RED SOX

Daisuke Matsuzaka

The Globe’s Peter Abraham wrote a piece the other day calling Matsuzaka “as enigmatic as ever,” and I came away from it just feeling sorry for the guy.

There’s gotta be some serious shame and frustration on Matsuzaka’s part. Let’s not forget the astronomical expectations placed on the pitcher. Back in 2007, the Globe sent a reporter to Japan to cover the pitcher’s Boston debut. From the article:

“Matsuzaka is symbolic for us to prove how well Japanese players can be ,” said Yuko Yamaguchi , a 29-year-old university counselor who used to watch Dice-K play with his former baseball team, the Seibu Lions. “And the younger generation here can relate to him better. I have big hopes for him.”

His very first start, versus the Kansas City Royals, Matsuzaka tossed seven innings and struck out ten batters. I’d kill for a start like that this upcoming season, but at the time, it was, at best, meeting expectations.

“He still has more to show,” one Japanese fan mused.

All told, during that first season Matsuzaka put together a very respectable first half. But then something happened. The pitch counts rose, and his habit of nibbling worsened. Meanwhile his control wavered, and his confidence wilted.

Usually pitchers struggle at the beginning of their careers before settling in. Unfortunately for Dice-K, the opposite occurred. He had a deceptively average 2008 season (don’t let the sterling record and ERA fool you—he was a nightmare to watch, and completely unreliable in the playoffs); since then, his career has taken a nosedive.

It's safe to say these t-shirts are out of print

Four years after his debut, it seems as though he’s never really adjusted to his new team or country, and I can’t help but empathize, because accompanying the blow to the ego must be a sense of incredible loneliness. Boston doesn’t exactly have a thriving Asian culture (outside of Lexington). I never tried sushi until I went to college out west, and had one half-Asian kid in my entire grade in high school. In other words, it’s no Seattle or San Francisco.

Matsuzaka is thousands of miles away from home, not pitching particularly well, with few friends, and regarded by the fans and media with general disdain. It’s no surprise that his relationship with most teammates would be strained, given the language barrier. But it doesn’t help that the rest of the rotation consists of three hicks from Texas and Jon Lester.

According to Peter Abraham,

Teammates regard him as baseball’s version of an independent contractor. Matsuzaka is on the roster but is not really part of the social fabric of the team. Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey, and Lester move as a group while Matsuzaka works primarily with the staff members assigned to him. The language barrier is part of it. But few inroads have been made in the last four years, leaving Matsuzaka a nodding acquaintance for most of the players.

Asked yesterday what players he was close to or learned something from, Matsuzaka looked to the skies for a few seconds before answering.

“There is no one specific person,’’ he said.

Let’s hope the righty returns to form in 2011, because even though he’s under contract for next season, if he doesn’t bounce back this may be his last in a Boston uniform.

Kevin Youkilis

The converted third baseman has seen his OPS steadily climb in each of his seven major league seasons—a pretty impressive feat.

It’s been fun watching him evolve as a hitter—from a solid on-base guy with questionable power numbers for a corner infielder to a perennial power threat who can be counted on to hit .300. More than anything, it’s a testament to his passion, hard work, and professionalism.

With Adrian Gonzalez protecting him in the lineup, here’s to hoping he finally cracks the 1.000 OPS mark.

Jed Lowrie/Marco Scutaro

Ah, the storyline of the Red Sox blogosphere (along with trying to goad Jon Papelbon into criticizing the front office)—who should be the starting shortstop, Jed “Chuckles” Lowrie, or Marco “Scu-Scu” Scutaro?

Given Francona’s penchant for staying loyal to his veterans, I’m sure Marco will get the nod on opening day. But I think each player—if healthy all season—can expect to play well over 100 games. With Lowrie’s versatility, there should be plenty of starts for the young shortstop when Pedey or Youk need a day off. He should also get the nod at third when the Sox face a tough lefty (with Youk shifting to first, Gonzalez DHing, and Papi riding the pine).

The 2012 starting shortstop job is Lowrie’s to lose, so this is the perfect season for him to prove he can stay healthy and put up solid numbers (or make him very attractive trade bait should the Sox choose to go with Jose Iglesias).

Don't worry Chuckles, your time will come

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