The Red Sox pitching staff has at times shown signs of gaining consistentency as the young season has progressed. And while the bullpen continues to produce quality outings, the starting rotation could certainly benefit from a more steadying presence.
Boston’s current situation, boasting the league’s second-worst team ERA (5.31) and third-worst starter’s ERA (5.87), just goes to show that the return of a healthy Daisuke Matsuzaka could be just the elixir this team needs.
Matsuzaka, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery performed in June 2011, has instilled hope within Red Sox nation in recent weeks. In three rehab starts, Matsuzaka has shown great control and velocity and maybe most importantly he only continues to raise his strong level of play.
In his first start in High-A Salem, Daisuke allowed six hits and three runs over just four innings of work, which raised some questions about his health. But Matsuzaka returned to the mound a week later in Double-A Portland, allowing a lone run and striking out seven in 4 2/3 innings, quieting much of the swirling skepticism.
The outing was encouraging and had the Fenway faithful believing maybe Matsuzaka was prepared for taking on added pressure upon his return. If there was any doubt beforehand, though, Monday night’s start at Triple-A Pawtucket only continued to quell any lingering concerns.
Matsuzaka displayed a variety of pitches throughout his 4 2/3 innings of scoreless work on Monday night. He was solid with his fastball, sitting between 89 and 91 mph throughout the night, and his wide array of off-speed pitches continued to flummox opposing batters.
There remains some durability concerns, surrounding the Japanese phenom’s surgically repaired right elbow. But while Matsuzaka continues to rehab, he’s also pining for an opportunity to help his team.
“If I could contribute to the team now, of course I would like to be up there,” Matsuzaka said through an interpreter on Monday night. “The best way for me to contribute to the team is to get as close to 100 percent as I can. I just need to get myself to that point in order for me to contribute the most to the team.”
And contribute he shall. Daisuke may have had a rough go of it in Boston in recent years, as the 31-year-old right-hander has recorded just 16 of his 39 career wins over the past three seasons, but he still boasts top-of-the-rotation talent.
The continuous struggles of Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and even Jon Lester of late have given pause to the previously almost foreseen conclusion of a Boston playoff appearance. But the insertion of a healthy Matsuzaka into the Red Sox rotation would almost certainly be a breath of fresh air for a squad seemingly hampered by nagging injuries and underwhelming performances.
Daisuke should bring a level of calm and focus to a team that in the middle of May remains a concerning five games under .500. His reinsertion into the starting rotation is almost a guarantee at this point, barring any major physically setbacks of course. And a healthy Daisuke would likely mean a more dominating and intimidating group, a reality that most hope isn’t being overblown.
At this point then, the only real question that remains is, when?
Although Matsuzaka is anxious to return, he remains hesitant to offer an exact timetable as he continues to develop physically.
“Overall, my body feels good, so that’s fine, but my elbow, depending on the day — some days it feels better than others,” Matsuzaka said. “I’ll just go see how I pitch my next outing and see how that goes and see where I stand then.”
Hopefully, Matsuzaka finds his health sooner rather than later, and that the same phenomenal work on display in the minors over the past three weeks is a precursor to what can be expected. Because it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that this team needs it.
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