Daisuke Matsuzaka Takes Step Toward Spot in Rotation

Daisuke Matsuzaka Takes Step Toward Spot in Rotation FORT MYERS, Fla. — He was the one wearing white pants.

With the usual swarm of media following his every move, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw to eight Red Sox farmhands — who always wear gray pants with their red shirts during spring — at the club's minor league complex Sunday, taking a big step toward reestablishing himself in Boston's starting rotation debate.

The usual intrigue surrounding Matsuzaka's every appearance was notable in his rock-star status amid a slew of 19- and 20-year-olds.

And finally, after weeks of waiting, the Japanese right-hander's spring training debut is set. He will throw in relief Friday at City of Palms Park when the Red Sox host Toronto. Fittingly, he'll come in behind Tim Wakefield, whose spot in the starting rotation could be threatened if and when Matsuzaka returns.

"I think it's too early to tell that," pitching coach John Farrell said of Matsuzaka's regular-season role with the parent club. "That's not to shortchange our view of him or the importance he's going to give us as a member of the rotation, but today was a step in the right direction."

Note the middle portion of Farrell's comment, the part about Matsuzaka's importance to the rotation.

This was uttered roughly 20 hours after Wakefield answered a question as to whether he thought he would be in the rotation with one word: "Absolutely."

It came three days after Clay Buchholz, another member of this aspiring trio, said these words regarding his increased weight and how it will help him as a starter: "It's gonna make it better for me throughout the season so that if I do happen to lose a couple of pounds I can afford to instead of being frail."

None of these lines sound like they've come from the mouth of a reliever.

It'll take Matsuzaka a few starts to get to Farrell's spring-training target of a 95-pitch outing, but he will be in a five-day rotation (there's that word again) starting with Friday's effort.

"I feel I'm gradually getting closer and closer to the real thing, but with so few games under my belt at this point I don't think I'm at a point where I can really gauge this or that," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino.

Facing the gray-panted minor leaguers, Matsuzaka tossed 32 pitches, 18 for strikes. He did walk a batter, but retired him on a double-play grounder the very next batter, one of five ground balls induced by the 29-year-old wearing the white pants.

His fastball topped out at 91 mph and he got a handful of swinging strikes when he was able to pull the string. The progress on his velocity and the late bite on some of his pitches showed progress from his batting practice session four days ago, Farrell said. The coach indicated that Matsuzaka's intensity was greater than before and that he had no mechanical issues whatsoever.

And using a line we hear often down here in Fort Myers, Matsuzaka echoed his pitching coach by saying, "Today was a step in the right direction."

Let the debate begin anew.

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