As we watched Daisuke Matsuzaka self-destruct throughout the first half of the 2009 season, we all suspected that something was wrong. But we couldn't diagnose the problem, and neither could the Red Sox. Turns out, though, that Dice-K himself knew all along.
According to reports that surfaced last week in the Japanese magazine Friday, the right-hander suffered a leg injury early last spring while training for the World Baseball Classic. He kept the injury a secret, continued to pitch both for Japan in the WBC and for the Red Sox, and was forced to alter his mechanics, leading to the leg injury that sidelined him for three months last summer.
Matsuzaka is back now; he's healthy and ready to be a Cy Young candidate again in 2010. But this latest news on the Sox' hurler is alarming on two fronts — it continues to raise questions about the health risks of major league players in the WBC, and it raises red flags about Dice-K's relationship with the Red Sox.
The WBC caused all sorts of problems for the Red Sox this year. It wasn't just Dice-K, who collapsed after putting together an 18-win season in 2008. Kevin Youkilis suffered a sprained left ankle that sidelined him during this year's Classic, and Dustin Pedroia, who also represented Team USA, was sent home to Boston with an abdominal strain. That's three of Boston's biggest stars who went down in a matter of weeks.
The injuries to Youkilis and Pedroia were minor roadblocks overcome in time for the Opening Day — no harm, no foul. But the Dice-K injury was a more serious problem; it derailed him for five months of the 2009 regular season. Dice-K wasn't Dice-K again until the middle of September. In other words, that was an $8 million leg injury.
But blaming the WBC for a problem as commonplace as a leg injury seems too easy. Injuries happen all the time — gearing up for the long season ahead is difficult, whether you do it in an international competition or back at camp in Florida. Getting hurt in March is an unfortunate part of the game. Joe Mauer, Cole Hamels and Grady Sizemore are just three of the stars who went down in spring training last year — no WBC required.
Dice-K getting hurt with the Japanese national team was unfortunate. But it wasn't the main problem — the bigger concern for the Red Sox going forward is how he handled his injury.
For a while now, there's been a disconnect growing between Dice-K and the Red Sox. It first became a problem last summer, when the pitcher clashed with the Red Sox training staff over his recovery from his shoulder injury. A dispute over different methods of physical therapy turned ugly when the two couldn't come to an agreement. Now, we're again seeing a failure to communicate. Why weren't the Red Sox notified that their star pitcher was playing hurt?
Matsuzaka insisted last week that he didn't tell the training staff about his troubles because he "didn't want to be the center of concern for people," so he pitched through it instead. Whether that explanation is the truth or not doesn't matter — the point is that lines of communication were blurred, and Matsuzaka and the Red Sox were both worse off for it.
Dice-K should have told the team about his injury. He's too important to the Red Sox, and he's too big an investment, to be keeping secrets. There are just too many risks involved.
Maybe things went wrong because physical training is different in the United States than in Japan. Maybe the problem was the language barrier in the Red Sox' clubhouse — telling the team about his injury was just too big a hassle.
Whatever the reason, it needs to be addressed.