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Changing luck with Dice?

Young offers up Matsuzaka tweak

By Nick Cafardo
March 14, 2011

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BRADENTON, Fla. — There’s a perception that on a Red Sox team that doesn’t seem to have many issues, there’s nothing to do but play the schedule and get fitted for World Series rings.

Not the case.

Any team that has Daisuke Matsuzaka on it always will have something to worry about, team personnel scratching their heads trying to figure out what’s going on with him. Wondering how they can turn him back into the pitcher international scouts felt so strongly about that a $51 million posting fee was paid to the Seibu Lions. After all, the Sox have seen glimpses — 33 wins in his first two seasons — but not much since. The last two seasons, it’s been an exercise in futility, with some miscommunication thrown in.

So with Matsuzaka’s struggles this spring, here we go again. The Sox are trying to do more tweaking, something, anything, to figure out why a pitcher with such a great arm, with such plus stuff, lately can’t seem to be a consistent winner. When one devotes the resources the Sox did to Matsuzaka, they expected him to be a No. 1 or 2 starter. He’s a No. 5, and barely able to hold that job down.

People are tired of hearing how he’s working on this or that. Just do it.

Manager Terry Francona said pitching coach Curt Young is changing Matsuzaka’s between-game ritual so he doesn’t have a long-toss session and a bullpen session in the same day. Don’t know why this wasn’t done a while back, but with a new pitching coach may have come a new look at an old problem. When John Farrell was the Sox’ pitching coach, he was frustrated by Matsuzaka at times. Young has come in and after careful observation of his pitchers, has begun to make any adjustments.

“Trying to get him throwing his side a day later,’’ said Francona. “What Dice has been doing over the course of his career in Japan . . . they had the extra day so he had a long toss/side. Here he’s been doing it on the same day. That’s the way he’s always done it. He’s adamant he would do it. Curt is trying to get him so he doesn’t do it in the same day. Curt said, ‘Just try it.’ That’s what we’re attempting.’’

Young is looking at it practically. On the second day after a game, a pitcher usually does long tossing to get his blood flowing, and on the third day he has a bullpen session to prepare to pitch again on the fifth day. Whether Matsuzaka takes to what is a more normal schedule for a major league pitcher, and pushes his side session back a day, remains to be seen. But the Red Sox have to try something.

Understand that Matsuzaka isn’t going anywhere. The Sox are not going to trade him because they don’t want to thin out their pitching. If Matsuzaka is traded, then you would be left with a 44-year-old knuckleballer in Tim Wakefield, a guy with a balky back in Alfredo Aceves, and a young lefty in Felix Doubront, who battled elbow soreness early in camp but is now back on track.

Matsuzaka also has a no-trade clause, and he really enjoys playing in Boston. Nobody wants to make this work more than Matsuzaka, because he knows he has such a large following in Japan, and that people are interested in whether he rebounds from the last two seasons.

Matsuzaka has told those close to him he wants to show everyone that he’s a top pitcher, and he wants to rid himself of the “circumstances’’ that have prevented him from doing that. So at least we know Matsuzaka feels everyone else’s pain, and that he’s not going through the motions. He wants to be better.

We don’t know what Matsuzaka’s reaction has been to the change of routine. But he’s apparently willing to try it. He threw a bullpen session in Fort Myers yesterday, a day after he long tossed.

If it works, it could make it easier for Matsuzaka to carry over his side sessions into games.

“I don’t know about carryover, but Curt felt two times in one day, you’re kind of tearing down your arm,’’ Francona said. “Long tossing, and then coming back with a side, it’s a lot in one day.

“So [we’re] trying to understand what Daisuke feels he needs and do it a little bit more economical. It makes sense when you think about it. His routine was based on the extra day in Japan.’’

Francona said because Young is new to Matsuzaka, they had a sit-down with the pitcher and an interpreter recently to go over the change.

“That was a part of why we sat down, because Curt is a new voice,’’ said the manager.

The Sox have other roster considerations.

Settling on a lefty reliever is a big one. Incumbent Hideki Okajima and his $1.75 million guaranteed salary probably would win if the competition were over today. Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes may have to go down to Pawtucket to start things off.

Andrew Miller is interesting because if the Sox send him down, he would have to clear waivers to be activated to the major-league roster. That’s a risk, but Miller’s deal is structured so that any team that claims him has to pay his $1.3 million salary and keep him on the 25-man roster.

The Sox also have to decide which righthanded reliever to keep. Matt Albers is becoming a favorite to win the spot because he’s out of options and the Sox don’t want to run the risk of not getting him through waivers and losing him to a rival such as Tampa Bay, which is going to be scouring the wires very closely to pluck a piece for their bullpen. If Albers is kept, Aceves and Scott Atchison likely will head to Pawtucket for a while.

Another issue is where to bat Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. It appears obvious Gonzalez is the perfect No. 3 hitter, but the Sox also have had Crawford in that spot when he’s played this spring.

So what will give? Will Gonzalez drop to fourth? Or will the Sox consider hitting Crawford fifth?

Francona likely will not always go with a set order, varying it against lefthanded pitchers, especially having Mike Cameron and Jed Lowrie available.

So the team that has everything has things it must be concerned with.

But the one constant lately, a seemingly never-ending exercise, is how can Matsuzaka be fixed. If the Sox ever do that, one might see a parade down Yawkey Way.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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