BOSTON, MA: Daisuke Matsuzaka #18 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of the game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
It wouldn't be a Daisuke Matsuzaka start if there weren't both positives and negatives to discuss afterward. In his first appearance in the majors since seeing his 2011 end thanks to Tommy John surgery, Dice-K struck out eight Nationals and walked just one, but gave up four runs in just five innings, exiting after 80 pitches when it appeared as if fatigue was setting in already.
On the plus side, that's more efficient than we're used to seeing Matsuzaka, who notoriously labors through five-plus innings while approaching or exceeding 100 pitches. Seeing him toss 80, with 65 percent going for strikes, is a positive, especially in just his first start back. What the Red Sox will need more of, though, as Dice-K starts in Daniel Bard's place, is length: if he can get closer to 100 pitches before tiring, it's less likely that the kind of big inning that sunk this particular start for him will occur.
The fourth was the lone frame in which Matsuzaka threw strikes at a below-average pace. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, we can see the breakdown of his strike percentage per inning:
|Inning||Pitches in Inning||Strikes in Inning||Strike% in Inning|
He threw just sinking fastball just once in the outing, relying instead on his four-seamer when he needed a heater. His cutter (21 percent), curve (20 percent) and change-up (14 percent) all saw plenty of action, though, and even though each offering (and his fastball) were missing a tick or two on their velocity, he still picked up swinging strikes on nine of his 80 pitches.
Dice-K even began the game by making quick work of the Nationals, throwing just 40 pitches through three innings, which, if it had continued, would have meant 93 pitches through seven innings -- certainly not the kind of performance associated with Dice-K. He retired nine of his first 10 batters, striking out half of them without permitting a walk, but had some trouble in the fourth.
Bryce Harper led off the frame with a walk, an event followed by a Ryan Zimmerman single and a LaRoche whiff. It was back to hitting after that, though, with a ground-rule double by Michael Morse, a single by Ian Desmond, and a double-play started off by Adrian Gonzalez in right field to finally end the scoring.
Dice-K pitched in the fifth as if the fourth never happened, getting Jesus Flores swinging, Bryce Harper looking, and facing just four batters in the entire frame. He was lifted for Franklin Morales after that, who had his own quality outing.
Four runs in a Matsuzaka start isn't insurmountable for this club on a normal day, but against the 2012 iteration of Gio Gonzalez, it's a lot to come back from. That being said, if he's giving up those four runs over six or seven innings, chances are good Boston will still be in those games. That would be a good thing for Boston, as Bard tries to work things out in Pawtucket, but, let's not forget: this is Dice-K. His first start was encouraging, and there has always been talent here, but whether or not it consistently shows up is and almost always has been the question.