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Matsuzaka, Sox already scrambling

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 15, 2009 04:06 AM

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(Editor's note: Since the initial posting of this column, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been placed on the disabled list.)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The golden rule of baseball is that you can never have enough pitching. The 2009 Red Sox have needed all of eight games to be reminded of that yet again.

Slightly more than a week after opening the season with what looked like the deepest pitching staff in baseball, the Sox were brought to their knees last night (make that early this morning) in a 6-5, 12-inning road loss to the Oakland A's. On a night when Daisuke Matsuzaka lasted one inning before reluctantly departing from the game -- more on this shortly -- Sox manager Terry Francona had to sap his bullpen for 10 2/3 innings as his team tumbled to a 2-6 start.

So what happens now? Excellent question. With Tim Wakefield due to start today's series finale, the Sox are scrambling for pitchers. Matsuzaka could be headed for the disabled list. The bullpen is close to cooked. The Sox now have to play a day game after an absurdly long night game, and the idea of bringing another pitcher to the West Coast seems foolish given the approximately 3,000-mile return flight to Boston awaiting the Sox after the game.

The good news? The Sox have a scheduled day off on Thursday. Nonetheless, Francona today could be faced with the prospect of either, 1) leaving Wakefield on the mound longer than he wants to; 2) employing other members of his starting rotation as relievers; or, in a worst case scenario, 3) using positional players to safeguard against injury on his pitching staff.

Not exactly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"We've talked some already and we'll probably talk again," Francona said after the game when asked if he had touched base with general manager Theo Epstein about the state of his pitching staff. "It's not the easiest thing in the world [to fly a pitcher across the country]."

This brings us back to Matsuzaka, the two-time Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic with whom the Sox clearly are not seeing eye-to-eye. According to Francona, Matsuzaka had some soreness following his season-opening start against Tampa Bay last week at Fenway Park. According to Matsuzaka, nothing "in particular" is ailing him. Whatever the cause, Matsuzaka's first two starts of the season have produced a 12.79 ERA, a pair of Red Sox defeats, and a whopping 14 1/3 innings of work for the bullpen, which has led the Red Sox to an easy and obvious conclusion.

The WBC did this to him.

And, by association, to them.

Like most clubs, the Sox detest the WBC because of the potential risk that comes with it. In posting fees and contractual commitments, they have a shade more than $103 million invested in Matsuzaka. The Sox were annoyed by Matsuzaka's workload in the WBC and have since chosen their words carefully, presumably to avoid criticizing Major League Baseball (and, by extension, unofficial WBC architect Bud Selig) as well as Japanese baseball officials, to whom the WBC clearly means so much.

Yet, just eight games into the season, the fact remains that Matsuzaka now has what the Sox described as arm "fatigue" during last night's game. Quite simply, the Sox believe that Matsuzaka did too much too soon, and they are probably right. Even if they are not, convincing them of otherwise will be darned near impossible given the meticulous nature with which the Sox have handled their pitchers in recent years.

"All the things we worried about," Francona said after rattling off a list of concerns the Sox had about Matsuzaka's participation in the event. "Then he threw his bullpen [over the weekend in Anaheim] and we assumed he was fine."

Francona volunteered to absorb his share of the heat for that -- "I'm going to have to take some blame," he said nobly -- but the problems here seem to run much, much deeper than any discussion the Sox had with Matsuzaka following last week's game against Tampa. Clearly, the team and pitcher have not been on the same page with regard to the pitcher's spring workload and his role in the WBC, and Matsuzaka seems to be getting tired of the suggestion that the event is detrimental to his longer-term availability to the club.

Last month, after Matsuzaka made his only Sox start of spring training, pitcher John Farrell acknowledged that Matsuzaka was stronger this year based on their objective spring tests. Nonetheless, Farrell, like Francona, seemed to have concerns about the effect of WBC wear and tear. A short time later, Matsuzaka all but contradicted his pitching coach's assessment, saying he preferred to take the opposite approach, believing the WBC would make him stronger.

Last night, Matsuzaka indicated he was prepared to remain in the game when the Sox pulled him after an ugly first inning during which Matsuzaka threw 43 pitches (a mere 22 strikes) while allowing five hits, five runs, and two walks. After the game, Farrell summoned translator Masa Hoshino for a conversation with Matsuzaka in the clubhouse. A short time after that, Matsuzaka declined to answer questions about his desire to remain in the game.

"It's not something I really want to discuss at the moment," he said through Hoshino.

As for Francona's assertion that Matsuzaka is ailing physically, at least in some capacity?

"I haven't had the chance to speak with the manager," Matsuzaka said. "But for me, personally, I think I'm fine."

At the moment, the same cannot be said for the Sox, who now have some unexpected juggling to do. If Matsuzaka ends up the disabled list -- bets, anyone? -- the most logical candidate to replace him may be Justin Masterson, who pitched four sensational innings in relief (six strikeouts) last night. That would create a bullpen spot for a current minor leaguer (Daniel Bard?), though it would also strip the Sox of perhaps their most versatile reliever.

Whatever the case, the Red Sox don't have too much time to decide.

Today, after all, first pitch is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. Pacific time.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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