After a couple of rehab starts in Pawtucket, Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to make his first start for the big club sometime early next month. One can only hope that Matsuzaka gets his groove back, because last year was a disaster. After a dominating 2008, Matsuzaka battled nagging injuries that led to him being exiled to the developmental leagues of Florida. Like Ralph Machacio learning how to paint the fence in the Karate Kid, Matsuzaka had to learn how to pitch again and stay healthy. When he came back in September 2009, Matsuzaka showed improvement. He was aggressive, striking out 30 batters in 24 innings, by attacking the strike zone instead of nibbling the corners of the plate.
With Matsuzaka is ready to pitch, Tim Wakefield will be moved to the bullpen. Although some fans believe Wakefield’s the odd man out, I think he’s the right man out. After starting the season strong, Wakefield has come back to Earth hard, allowing 11 runs in two games. Wakefield has also proven to be a liability to the team defensively thanks to his battery mate Victor Martinez, who struggles catching Wakefield’s knuckleball. Placing Wakefield in the bullpen gives the Red Sox someone who can eat up innings and puts fewer miles on the arms of other pitchers like Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen.
The big question with Matsuzaka is whether fans will see the 2008 version of Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90 ERA, 154 Ks) or someone more like Hideki Irabu (a career 5.15 ERA). From what I saw late last year, I think fans will see a determined Matsuzaka who has something to prove. He has had three roller-coaster seasons in Boston, but I think Matsuzaka will find stability in 2010. With the spotlight being focused on John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, Matsuzaka will pick up where he left off in late 2009 without having the burden of being the ace or the go-to guy in the rotation. He will finally meet the high expectations placed on him by the fans and the team and return to form in 2010.
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