Daisuke Matsuzaka Worthy of No. 3 Spot in Red Sox’ Rotation


Nov 13, 2009

Daisuke Matsuzaka Worthy of No. 3 Spot in Red Sox' Rotation The top of the Red Sox' rotation is set, with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester serving No. 1 and 1A roles as aces of the staff. Beyond that, the picture is much murkier.

Fighting it out for the No. 3 spot in the rotation will be two pitchers who have struggled for consistency throughout their short careers — Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz.

Both arrived on the scene in 2007 as Red Sox rookies with a fair amount of hype. Matsuzaka's was a bit more overblown than the hype surrounding Buchholz, though the excitement surrounding the 23-year-old who was deemed untouchable in trades still ran high.

Since their 2007 debuts, Matsuzaka has pitched 241 more innings than Buchholz, but neither pitcher's numbers stand out as markedly better:

Matsuzaka: 37-21, 4.00 ERA, 409 SO, 204 BB, 1.399 WHIP
Buchholz: 12-14, 4.91 ERA, 162 SO, 87 BB, 1.495 WHIP

As is obvious, the key for the improvement of both pitchers rests in lowering their WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). For Daisuke, the problem is walks. For Buchholz, the issue is more with hits (9.3 hits per nine innings).

Whoever finds a way to limit baserunners — and therefore increase his innings on the mound — will lock down the No. 3 spot in the rotation in the playoffs (if the Red Sox are fortunate enough to get there). But in choosing who takes the spot for the third game of the season, at this point, it has to be Matsuzaka.

While neither pitcher did enough in 2009 to inspire Beckett-level confidence, Matsuzaka's final month of the season was as good a stretch as he's had in his career. After missing the entire summer, Matsuzaka returned to go 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. He averaged 6 2/3 innings per start, which compares well with Beckett (6 2/3) and Lester (6 1/3).

Now, awarding the No. 3 role to Matsuzaka isn't necessarily a denouncement of Buchholz's performance in 2009. After tearing through the minors for three months, Buchholz did OK with the big club, going 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA.

Yet when Buchholz took the hill in Game 3 of the ALDS, his performance seemed as if it could have been scripted by anyone who’d watched him pitch all year. Five decent innings (one run on four hits to go with three strikeouts) followed by a sixth inning that he just couldn't escape. A double, a balk, a single and a walk in the sixth ended Buchholz's day. He pitched well enough to win, but the added workload he handed to the bullpen proved costly by the end of the day.

With Buchholz, the no-hitter and the "rookie sensation" tag are far away in the rear view. What it comes down to now is what kind of steps he can take toward becoming the pitcher he was expected to become. He'll have this season to figure it out.

In the case of Matsuzaka, he clearly wasn't an ace, and he may never live up to his $103 million contract. But he showed enough in his return last fall to inspire some confidence that maybe — just maybe — he's figured out what it takes to pitch in the bigs. At the very least, he's earned the right to have his shot.

NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day in November.

Thursday, Nov. 12: What does Jacoby Ellsbury need to do to become a premier leadoff hitter?

Saturday, Nov. 14: Who’s the Red Sox’ next breakout pitching prospect?

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