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Francona sticks by Dice-K; move to 'pen unlikely

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 17, 2009 02:21 PM

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With a 7.55 earned run average and one victory in seven starts, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been a weak link on the Red Sox' deep pitching staff this season. And he knows it.

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With John Smoltz set to make his season debut next Thursday and the Red Sox going with a temporary six-man rotation, Matsuzaka said he understands it is imperative that he starts pitching better soon.

"It has been hard, but I know I cannot be in this situation," Matsuzaka said last night in a conversation with Japanese reporters, according to a report on WEEI.com. "I have to bring my [stuff] back as quickly as I can. I really want to pitch for the team to win, with focusing on my details [of pitching]."

Matsuzaka, who won 18 games last season, was the Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic in March while pitching Japan to the title. But he has not been right for the Red Sox all season, and he missed more than a month beginning in late April with a tired arm.

Despite his struggles, manager Terry Francona said the team continues to have faith that Matsuzaka will find his good form.

"He's had a tough run here," Francona said during his weekly chat with WEEI's the "Dale and Holley Show" this afternoon. "We all talked about the [World Baseball Classic] and what kind of shape [his shoulder] was in when he came back. We felt like he wasn't ready to go for the long haul, so we sat him down. He's not been . . . I don't think he's happy with the way he's pitched so far.

"Now saying that -- and again, we always try to make decisions to put our team in the best light -- but saying that, when guys go through tough times, I remember a couple of weeks ago when everybody wanted David [Ortiz] to not be here anymore. We can't make decisions like that."

Is there a chance Matsuzka will go to the bullpen? Francona sounded as if he didn't consider it a feasible option for a number of reasons.

"My first thought was that if we tell him that we're putting him in long relief that's probably not going to build his confidence a whole lot," Francona said. "You know, there's a lot of things to think about. When you put a guy in the bullpen, who comes out of the bullpen? When you send a guy to the bullpen, how does he react to the bullpen?

"Also, Daisuke is typically our guy who takes the longest to warm up . . . he goes out there a good 45-50 minutes before the game and throws a lot, so is that going to work? If you put a guy in the bullpen and he hasn't pitched a lot in three weeks and you need a starter is he capable of throwing a lot of pitches? I think there's a lot of things to look at. We can't just get caught up in what the fans and [media] are caught up in because we'll make some poor decisions."

Francona suggested Matsuzaka's track record during his first two seasons with the Sox should earn him the benefit of the doubt.

"I mean, we're talking about a pitcher who over the last two years has one, what, 33 regular-season games, three postseason games," Francona said. "That's 36 games. I don't care how you do it, that's a lot of games. We can't just put guys on a shelf when they run through tough times. I think a better way to go is to help fix 'em. We've got this guy signed for a long time. We want him to help us win games."

The manager also reiterated that Matsuzaka's status is not affected by either Smoltz's arrival or the six-man rotation.

"As I said last night when we went through our rotation, Daisuke's pitching on Friday," Francona said. "We're gonna back everyone up a day this week and give 'em an extra day [of rest]. The only one that doesn't get an extra day is Wake, and that's why we took him out of the game last night early.

"The idea is to keep this guys fresh so that they can be good all year. We're trying to keep an eye on that. It's not an easy thing to do."

Francona said the six-man rotation isn't the drastic change it has been made out to be.

"You know, there's been way more written and said about this than I ever imagined," he said. "What we're trying to do is make decisions, and make good decisions, not only based on today or tomorrow but based on the rest of the year. Small picture, big picture.

"We talked to Smoltzie in Philadelphia and had a really good conversation. . . . In talking to him, the more we talked, we were like, 'OK, wait a minute. Because we have a enough pitching, could this be in your best interest to maybe make a [minor-league start], go a little short, have a little time off to get yourself ready for the long haul?' He goes, 'Absolutely.' So we're like, 'Wait a minute, then. Why don't we do this?' And it just seemed kind of easy."

Francona also explained the rationale for slotting Smoltz between Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in the rotation.

"What we're trying to do is not ruin one of our strengths," Francona said. "We're trying to bring guys back in the middle of the year, and I don't think it's realistic that Smoltzie's going to throw 130 pitches in his first outing. And we're certainly going to try to keep an eye on him and build as opposed to him having one outing and then going backwards.

"So we're trying to keep our bullpen consistent also, maybe not go to them early two nights in a row. So the guys that have been getting us the deepest are Lester and Beckett, so the guys in between them, it makes it a little bit easier to manage the guys that haven't been going as long. The idea is not to ruin our starters and also not to ruin our bullpen."

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