Everything is cool in Matsuzaka’s second rehab start

By Dan Hickling
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2012
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PORTLAND, Maine - Daisuke Matsuzaka worked with his usual deliberateness while in short sleeves on the Hadlock Field mound Saturday, exposing his surgically repaired elbow to a brisk, 46-degree chill and his varied repertoire to the Reading Phillies.

In a rehab start with the Double A Portland Sea Dogs, everything worked out well for the Red Sox righthander.

It was his second minor league outing - coming six days after he threw four innings for Single A Salem - in his bid to return from the Tommy John surgery that was performed on his right elbow last June.

Facing 17 hitters over 4 2/3 innings, Matsuzaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks, while striking out seven (all swinging), in a game the Sea Dogs won, 9-1.

Matsuzaka threw 74 pitches - ranging from 73 to 93 miles per hour - with 44 going for strikes.

“I’m not too worried about my velocity,’’ Matsuzaka said in Japanese through an interpreter. “Or my off-speed pitches, at the moment. There are other areas I need to work on before.’’

Even so, Matsuzaka was able to use all of his repertoire effectively.

“He threw a lot of strikes,’’ said Sea Dogs catcher Dan Butler. “He was going right after guys, so that’s always a plus when you’ve got a guy throwing to contact. Letting them get themselves out, doing a good job of mixing his pitches to do so.

“He had four plus pitches today. He could throw any of them at any time.’’

Matsuzaka got off to a strong start, striking out Reading leadoff hitter Tyson Gillies on five pitches, polishing him off with a 78-m.p.h. curveball.

He also fanned Darin Ruf to end the inning, enticing Ruf to swing at an 80-m.p.h. changeup.

In the second, he retired the Phillies on just nine pitches, the last of which he snared himself when Miguel Abreu lined a sharp comebacker.

“Treating it like he’s in Boston,’’ said Butler. “Treating it like he’s trying to get guys out. That’s what he’s trying to do.’’

Matsuzaka allowed his first hit with one out in the third, a lined single to right by Steve Lerud. Lerud was later gunned down by Butler trying to steal second.

He gave up another hit in the fourth - a one-out single by Tim Kennelly - followed by a four-pitch walk to Ruf, then induced Stephen Susdorf to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Having thrown just 56 pitches through four innings, Matsuzaka was still working easily into his final inning, even though the blustery conditions made pitching bare-armed a challenge.

“I wanted to see if I would be OK pitching in the cold, even with short sleeves,’’ he said.

He likely would have made it through the fifth unscored on and with the win, but for a fly ball by Abreu that fell for a triple when right fielder Bryce Brentz lost it in the sun.

Abreu scored after Matsuzaka left in favor of reliever Chris Martin.

“I didn’t feel any fatigue,’’ said Matsuzaka, “and when the manager [Kevin Boles] came out, I knew what it meant.

“My body felt fine. I felt I could finish the inning. And if it weren’t a rehab start, I know I would have.’’

As for the plan now, Matsuzaka said he wasn’t certain when or where his next start would be.

And while he was pleased with how things have gone through two starts, he feels he needs more work before he can consider himself ready for Fenway.

“I’m progressing well,’’ he said, “as I was able to do things I wasn’t able to do in my previous start.

“But there are a lot of areas that I need to work on. The flow of the game. The momentum of the game. My form. Those are the areas I’ll continue to focus on as I pitch.’’

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