Editor's note: NESN.com is going to tell the story of the 2012 Red Sox in Bobby Valentine’s words. Each game day, we will select the best Valentine quote that sums up the day for the Red Sox.
The expression on Daisuke Matsuzaka's face said it all. He appeared disappointed, somber and utterly befuddled as manager Bobby Valentine slowly sauntered to the mound with an outstretched hand, relieving the Japanese pitcher of his duties.
Valentine's summons for the ball at such an early juncture was certainly a necessary reaction amid Monday night's debacle, but that action could also be a precursor for what's to come. The strong displays from both Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales in recent weeks has caused quite a stir within Red Sox Nation. Boston has a bevy of pitching talent but a limited number of slots with which to use it.
The emergence of such talents as Morales and Cook has given the Red Sox some solid depth in their rotation, but it could also force Valentine into tough decisions down the road.
Historically speaking, Matsuzaka (0-3, 6.55 ERA) is not only the most experienced member of the potential starting trio in the role, but he's also the one with arguably the most talent. Neither will matter much, though, if he continues to rely on his relief staff to bail him out of jams.
Relief came for Matsuzaka on Monday in the form of the Red Sox bullpen, a reliable force to be reckoned with on the year. The combination of Clayton Mortensen and Mark Melancon — yes, that Mark Melancon — combined to allow just one run over seven innings of relief. The pair did the necessary dirty work during the first of a three-game set in Oakland. But the damage was already done.
Matsuzaka lasted just 28 pitches in a little more than one inning of work in Monday's 6-1 loss, allowing five earned runs while giving up four hits and two walks to the nine batters he faced. It was Matsuzaka's worst performance of the season by far, and arguably one of the worst outings of his career.
Matsuzaka, now in his sixth season in the major leagues, was unable to get out of the second inning for just the fourth time in 110 career starts.
The last time he worked so short was during a 5-3 loss to the Angels on May 4, 2011, as he allowed two runs over just one inning of work — but that was also three weeks before being forced to have Tommy John surgery. Before that, his most recent horrid outing was also the last time he pitched in Oakland.
On April 14, 2009, Matsuzaka made arguably the worst start of his career. He threw 43 pitches over one-plus innings of work, allowing five hits, two walks and five earned runs — sound familiar? — in a loss to the A's. He was awful that night, and if the sequence of that season — a 4-6 record with 5.76 ERA — is any indication of what's to come this year, then Valentine needs to bail fast.
The historical data is definitely alarming, especially given than Matsuzaka is now 16-18 with a 5.16 ERA since the start of 2009, but what's even more frightening is the thought of keeping the far superior pitching of either Cook or Morales out of the rotation.
Morales has been lights-out since getting his chance to shine in the rotation, allowing four runs and striking out 24 over his last 18 innings. And Cook has tossed both a solid outing and an absolute gem over the past week, allowing just two earned runs in 14 innings of work.
Both players have been phenomenal for the Sox and deserving of more opportunities to prove their worth. At the same time, Matsuzaka has proven as inconsistent as ever. And while Matsuzaka has had flashes of brilliance, outings like Monday only prove why he should be the odd man out.
"Dice obviously didn't have his good stuff tonight," Valentine said. "We were hoping he was going to work through it. As it turned out, he didn't work through it."
And he can't necessarily be relied upon to work through it while the Red Sox try to work their way up the division. If any of the six guys in the Boston rotation need to take a seat, then without a doubt, Matsuzaka should go.
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