He was in control and in command

Matsuzaka threw with efficiency

By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / July 12, 2010

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TORONTO — The formula seems simple.

When Daisuke Matsuzaka throws strikes, the Red Sox have a chance to win.

That was the case yesterday as the Sox beat the Blue Jays, 3-2, at Rogers Centre. Matsuzaka threw 88 pitches, 62 for strikes, and gave up only two runs in six-plus innings.

The start was abnormally efficient for the righthander. Matsuzaka has thrown fewer than 100 pitches just three times this season, and in the previous two outings the early hook was a product of a combined 11 earned runs in 10 innings. His 14.67 pitches per inning made yesterday Matsuzaka’s third-most-efficient start of the season.

The conditions at the stadium provided an early advantage for both pitchers, as a malfunction with the retractable roof left one side only partially open, and the shadows covering the infield created an awkward view for the hitters. In his first six innings, Matsuzaka allowed no runs and only four hits.

Sox catcher Kevin Cash said that the shadows shouldn’t take away from the performance his pitcher put on.

“He was outstanding,’’ Cash said. “With or without shadows, he had great stuff today.’’

Matsuzaka had thrown only 86 pitches when he started the seventh, but it took only two more to bring manager Terry Francona to the mound and Daniel Bard into the game. Adam Lind led off the inning with a single, and on the next pitch, Aaron Hill hit a home run to left to make the score 3-2.

“I knew that my pitch count was pretty low at that point, but I also knew that if I had gotten those hitters out, I probably would’ve been given a chance to stay in the game,’’ Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino.

“It turned into a very close game, and with the break coming up, I think [Francona] was comfortable with throwing Bard in there fairly early.’’

Matsuzaka said the best part of his start was getting in front of hitters early in the count, and Cash agreed.

“Getting that first strike and getting that first hitter out of the inning, to me that’s his biggest key,’’ Cash said. “Get the hitter up and get him out or start ahead in the count. Then he’s able to manipulate what he wants to do with the ball.

“He worked in to guys really well. I think with [the Jays], they’re so aggressive you have to work in. And every time I went to it, he got the ball where he wanted to.’’

For the third time all season, Matsuzaka did not surrender a walk, and the trend of Boston wins in games in which he is in command continued.

In six wins this season, Matsuzaka’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost four times as high, 3.78, compared to .99 in his six other starts.

Hitters are only batting 37 points less in his wins, but their on-base percentage is .235 compared to .411 in games in which Matsuzaka lost or took a no-decision.

Yesterday was Matsuzaka’s fourth start since returning from the DL. He was 0-1 in his previous three starts and walked four in each of those games.

Matsuzaka knows he had struggled with his command recently but he hopes that a few small changes he’s made to his delivery will help.

“I’m just working on a few very minor things in the hopes that sometimes small changes can bring about dramatic results,’’ Matsuzaka said.

“It’s hard to say right now, but hopefully these small changes are starting to work out.’’

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