|D. MATSUZAKA Fatigue was factor|
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn't having any of it. He wanted no part of the question, or its answer. When asked where his wife would be giving birth - a scenario that might affect his team, based on his availability for its jaunt to Japan - Matsuzaka asked for privacy, saying, "She's just in a very sort of delicate situation right now and I'd prefer not to answer any questions."
With his wife thought to be staying in Boston for the birth of the couple's second child, due around the time of the season opener in Tokyo March 25, Matsuzaka will find those queries trailing him. They aren't the only ones, though, especially in light of the injury to Curt Schilling and the difficulties Matsuzaka had at the end of last season, when his pre-All Star stats of 10-6 and a 3.84 ERA sank to 5-6, 5.19 after the break.
"I think last season I went into it only knowing the pace of the season in Japan, so it was certainly a big difference to face a different pace of a season here in the US," Matsuzaka said yesterday, through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I think what happened last year was that the peak of my fatigue arrived at a time when I wasn't exactly expecting it to arrive, not at the time that it usually arrives, and I think that was part of the difficulty last year.
"I think in Japan it usually comes around June or July. And when I say 'peak of fatigue,' I adjust myself for that so in June or July when I feel the most tired I can build myself back up toward the end of the year and toward the playoffs.
"But what happened last year was I couldn't time it as well, so I just felt like the fatigue just dragged on gradually all the way through September so I wasn't able to readjust. But for me I felt like it was a little bit off even from the beginning of spring training."
The plan is to combat that this season, obviously. Pitching coach John Farrell said in January that Matsuzaka had expressed interest in altering his routine during spring training, pitching additional innings to ready himself for the season. Matsuzaka said he hadn't yet taken up the issue with the coaching staff since his arrival in Fort Myers.
"I think the biggest thing that you try to accomplish is that the individual pitcher feels most confident with the work he's done to date to prepare him for the season," Farrell said at the time. "The thing we will always talk with Daisuke about is balancing the amount of volume now and continuing to look at the 162 or more games that will be upcoming. That's a constant learning curve with him."
With the combination of familiarity and "a lot less stress," as the pitcher put it, Matsuzaka seemed more relaxed yesterday. He sported a variation on a mullet - after wearing a Mohawk for much of last season - and was surrounded by about a dozen Japanese reporters. In contrast to last season, when his every move was chronicled by the Japanese media and the almost equally attentive American press, the Japanese contingent is expected to be much smaller this year. Matsuzaka could walk more easily around the complex, though his every pitch (41, in a bullpen session) still was watched closely.
"Unlike last year, I felt that I was able to prepare for spring training much better this year, and hopefully some of that good preparation will lead to stronger results here in my second year," he said. "As for high expectations, I think I'm the one who has the highest expectations for myself.
"I think at the end of the season last year I already decided that I'd put a lot of pressure on myself this year to perform really well, so that was decided before I knew about Curt's injury. But now that I do know, I'd like to do my best to fill whatever holes I can."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.