Few things prove the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" quite like Sunday's Red Sox-Cardinals line score. Sure, Boston pitching imploded on its way to giving up 10 runs in the sixth, but it was a performance on the City of Palms Park that Sox fans will come away feeling best about.
Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka likely went a long way in easing the Red Sox Nation's minds when it comes to the team's No. 5 starter with his second solid start in as many outings. Matsuzaka went 5 2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs, while scattering three hits. He also struck out four while only issuing two free passes.
One of those free passes, a two-out walk to Albert Pujols in the sixth signaled the start of the end for Matsuzaka. He was yanked after surrendering a RBI-double to Matt Holliday after throwing 79 pitches (50 for strikes, by the way). Andrew Miller came on, and allowed Holliday to score — not to mention quite a few others — closing the book on Matsuzaka.
But what Red Sox fans have to be really excited about is the way that Matsuzaka threw the ball on Sunday. He attacked the zone with mostly fastballs. More importantly, he was in command of that fastball. On multiple occasions, it was Matsuzaka putting the ball right where he wanted to put away the Cardinals.
In the fourth, Matsuzaka fell behind 2-0 against Pujols. Not worrying, he hit his spot and forced Pujols to pop out to Dustin Pedroia. He then buried what appeared to be a two-seam fastball on the inside corner against Holliday, a pitch that the All-Star lazily popped up to catcher Jason Varitek.
Just as importantly, Matsuzaka didn't seem to be "nibbling" as much as he has been known to. Instead, he looked to be settling for breaking the plate in halves or thirds, and using that approach, as opposed to throwing to a finite spot.
Locked in a constant battle with the quest for consistency for much of his career, Matsuzaka was able to put together two good outings for the first time this spring. Sunday's start followed up a scoreless five-inning start on Tuesday against the Tigers.
It's too early to pinpoint exactly what the reason for Matsuzaka's early turnaround is, but not surprisingly, Varitek may have something to do with it. In fact, in the three appearances with Varitek behind the plate — including Matsuzaka's first start of the spring — he's thrown 12 2/3 innings, and has surrendered just three earned runs.
Maybe that's it. Maybe it's new pitching coach Curt Young who has Matsuzaka changing some things around in-between starts. Maybe it's the fact that John Farrell now resides in Toronto. Whatever the reason is, the Red Sox will be fine in terms of starting pitching if they get the Matsuzaka they got on Sunday more often than they have in the past.
That version of Matsuzaka, the one who doesn't know the meaning of "nibbling," and attacks the zone with the fastball, is just the pitcher the Red Sox will love to send out every fifth day in the back end of the rotation.