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Matsuzaka set for long-awaited 2012 debut

Valentine unsure what to expect

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 9, 2012
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A year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, Daisuke Matsuzaka will take the mound for the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon.

Asked what he expected out of the onetime Japanese star, manager Bobby Valentine held his palms up.

“Oh, gosh,’’ he said. “It’s hard to know.’’

That aptly sums up Matsuzaka’s tenure with the Red Sox. A rotation mainstay for two seasons, Matsuzaka has been wildly inconsistent and/or injured since, compiling a 5.03 earned run average since the start of the 2009 season and making only 44 starts.

Matsuzaka refused interviews, although the Sox did distribute a quote they said was from the righthander.

“Saturday’s game will be a special game,’’ Matsuzaka said. “It represents a new step for me. It is going to be a very emotional day, but I have to remain calm and treat it like any other start I have had throughout my career.’’

Matsuzaka made six minor league rehabilitation starts, going 0-3 with a 3.65 earned run average. He totaled 37 innings and gave up 31 hits with nine walks and 30 strikeouts.

In his last start, for Triple A Pawtucket on Monday, Matsuzaka was lifted in the second inning after throwing 40 pitches.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. I hope he throws strikes and I hope he has two pitches to do it with and I’d be happy if that happened,’’ Valentine said.

The manager isn’t sure what to expect of Matsuzaka in terms of innings or pitch count.

“We’re going to go inning by inning and I’m going to check with him after the inning,’’ Valentine said. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to get in the dugout before I have to make a decision.’’

Among the Nationals, only Rick Ankiel and Xavier Nady have faced Matsuzaka. Those at-bats came in 2008.

Rough going

Daniel Bard’s control problems continued in his first start for Pawtucket.

In what was a planned one-inning stint, Bard hit two batters and allowed three runs against Indianapolis Friday at McCoy Stadium.

Bard hit Chase d’Arnaud, who then stole second. Gorkys Hernandez singled to right. Bard then hit Starling Marte to load the bases.

Jeff Clement grounded to shortstop, forcing Marte at second as a run scored. Bard then struck out former teammate Yamaico Navarro before Jeff Larish doubled to center, driving in two runs.

Bard then finished the inning by striking out Brandon Boggs. He threw 25 pitches, 15 strikes. Bard’s fastball hit 96 miles per hour.

Pedroia improvises

Dustin Pedroia was 0 for 11 in his first three games after returning from a thumb injury that cost him six games. But he felt good about his swings on Thursday night against the Orioles.

“I was excited because I felt like myself, because I hit the ball on the barrel twice,’’ he said. “I’m not worried about how the heck I’m going to swing.’’

Pedroia junked the bulky brace he was using on his thumb for a smaller contraption.

“The first games was hard, I couldn’t hit with it. But we figured something out,’’ he said.

Pedroia is now using a shock-absorbing gel pad at the base of his thumb, a padded batting glove, and a plastic ring-like device called Direct Protect.

Pedroia went 1 for 5 in the Sox’ 7-4 loss Friday to the visiting Nationals. He struck out swinging the first two times against hard-throwing Stephen Strasburg before singling off him in the sixth.

Like old times

Bryce Harper wasn’t the only player at Fenway Park who was in the majors at the age of 19. Valentine was 19 when the Dodgers called him up in 1969. He got in five games and scored three runs for Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston.

“I was a token September call-up and pinch ran a couple of times. I was nowhere near ready to play in the major leagues,’’ Valentine said.

Valentine joked that he didn’t remember much about it.

“I wish I could. They were the ’60s. They say you’re not supposed to remember what happened in the ’60s or otherwise you didn’t live them,’’ he said.

But there is one experience that stood out.

“I got to third base once and Danny Ozark was the third base coach. He actually told me to steal home. There was a lefthanded pitcher pitching out of the windup and I said, ‘I’ll do it next pitch.’ Willie Davis hit a fly ball to left on that pitch. I was going to steal home as a 19-year-old. It would have been interesting.’’

Crawford throws

Carl Crawford threw for the first time since coming back from his elbow injury, and had no problems . . . Pitching coach Bob McClure was away from the team to attend to a family matter . . . Ryan Kalish was 2 for 6 with two doubles in his latest injury rehab game for Pawtucket . . . Marlon Byrd was called into Valentine’s office after the game and told he would be designated for assignment to make room for Matsuzaka on the roster. Byrd hit .270 in 34 games after being obtained by the Cubs on April 21 . . . James Demler, a Boston Pops baritone, had the public address duties.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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