BALTIMORE -- While Josh Beckett became the major leagues' first 15-game winner yesterday, you could make a compelling case that the best pitcher in the American League since June 1 has been Red Sox teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Matsuzaka's record over that span is a modest 6-5, including a no-decision in Friday night's 6-5 loss here to the Orioles, but his earned-run average of 2.53 is the lowest of any AL starter (minimum 10 starts). He has 91 strikeouts and 35 walks in 85 1/3 innings, while allowing just 69 hits in 314 at-bats, an opponents' batting average of .220.
His average of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings ranks him third behind Erik Bedard of the Orioles (11.62), whom he dueled Friday night, and Scott Kazmir (10.16), the Tampa Bay lefthander who is scheduled to face Sox lefty Jon Lester Tuesday in Fenway Park.
Why hasn't his dominance translated into a better won-lost record? Because in that span, Matsuzaka has received just 3.38 runs of support per nine innings. Matsuzaka went seven innings Friday night, allowing one run on four hits (all singles), while walking four and whiffing seven. He threw 113 pitches, the third straight start he's thrown the same number of pitches.
When looking at the adjustments Matsuzaka has had to make pitching in the major leagues as opposed to his native Japan, consider this: With four days' rest, which is considered the norm in the major leagues, Matsuzaka has made 11 starts, in which he has a record of 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA. He has 67 strikeouts in 73 innings. In the 13 starts before which he has had five days of rest (or more), the norm in Japan, Matsuzaka has an 8-3 record and 3.07 ERA. He also has more strikeouts (92) than innings pitched (85).
Gagne has allowed runs in three of his four appearances with the Sox (16.20 ERA), and opponents have batted .474 (9 for 19).
"I think his biggest adjustment is coming to a new team, and trying to do too much," Francona said. "It was almost like he was being Tom Seaver, dropping and driving, which is just not him. There were a couple of times he missed his spots by a couple of feet.
"What he does himself is plenty good enough. He's got plenty of pitches. It's a normal feeling [trying to do too much], regardless of your pedigree, and he's one of the best in the game.
"That's one of the reasons why I didn't want to get him [Francona eventually replaced him with Hideki Okajima]. It's a matter of confidence. He's going to help this team."
Gagne spent close to 45 minutes upon his arrival in the clubhouse yesterday studying video.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.