After Tuesday’s outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston hopes he’s the example by which all others will follow.
Matsuzaka toyed with the Blue Jays for seven innings, allowing only one run on three hits and striking out nine as the Sox rolled to a 6-1 victory. He did not walk a batter for the first time since June 7, 2009.
It was the culmination of a long road for Matsuzaka, who had his spring training derailed with a neck strain, waited patiently through a handful of dominant rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket and then battled through two uneven starts upon returning to the Boston rotation.
As the Red Sox have waited for consistency from their starting staff, Matsuzaka has waited for his season to just get going. On Tuesday both were rewarded for their patience.
The 29-year-old retired the first seven he faced, unloading fastball after fastball by the free-swinging Jays. He had five strikeouts through three innings and opened the fourth with his sixth. Through five innings all that Matsuzaka surrendered was a bleeder in the hole between shortstop and third base that went for an infield single for Toronto catcher John Buck.
"I thought he was terrific," manager Terry Francona said of Matsuzaka. "No walks, the strikeouts, nine. He held the fastball from the first inning through the seventh. He was aggressive and confident in his fastball and it showed."
For Matsuzaka, it represented the end of one journey, but hopefully the first step in another.
"It’s not easy to have an outing like this every time, and it’s not easy to maintain this level of pitching, but I think I went into the offseason with this sort of pitching as my goal," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I was able to do that for the first time tonight."
Aside from a newfound aggressiveness and unerring command, one additional reason may have spurred Matsuzaka on Tuesday. For the first time in 2010 he was paired with catcher Jason Varitek after throwing to Victor Martinez the first two times.
Entering the season, Matsuzaka had thrown to Varitek in 69 of his 73 career starts. The righty said he and Varitek put together their game plan a day ago and had no issues carrying it out.
Matsuzaka has now allowed just two runs in his last 11 1/3 innings, and 10 of the 13 runs he has given up this season came in two painful innings. Aside from that, he has been solid.
"First start he had a bad last inning, next start he had a bad first inning," Francona said. "Today he held it together from one through seven and there were no hiccups. We’ve seen all but the two innings he’s really been good."
On a day when the Red Sox learned that their Opening Day starter, Josh Beckett, would miss a start with back spasms, and a day before they throw Tim Wakefield for the first time since April 25, there were questions once again surrounding their starting rotation.
With what may be his best start since 2008, Matsuzaka may be the answer Boston was hoping for.
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