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Daisuke Matsuzaka's key to a Successful Season

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By Matt Gaul

In all of the chatter about the Red Sox's 2008 season, there has been one clear trend: people expect Daisuke Matsuzaka to turn into a solid No. 2 starter, instead of the No. 3 he was last year.In his first year in the majors, Dice-K won 15 games while throwing for 204.2 innings, 201 strikeouts, 191 hits and 80 walks. For the first half of the year, he came as advertised as he went 10-6 in 119.2 IP and a 3.84 ERA. He stumbled the second half, showing a propensity for losing complete control of all of his pitches for an extended period of time and went 5-6, 85 IP, 5.19 ERA. Now, Dice-K will look to maintain his first-half consistency all year long.

Can he do it?

Bill James and CHONE projections are optimistic about what Dice-K can do for us in 2008. James has Matsuzaka at a 3.54 ERA, 30 starts, 193.0 IP. CHONE has him at a 3.94 ERA and 196.0 IP. Marcel is a hater, and says Dice-K will have a 4.33 ERA in 162.0 IP. And everyone's favorite projection system, PECOTA, has him at 191.0 IP in 30 starts with a 3.90 ERA.

Overall, not bad. Three out of four believe he'll have an ERA under 4.00 and innings over 190

Obviously, a lot will have to do with how Matsuzaka stays healthy the entire year and how much his body responds to the additional endurance required to complete a full season. With his mind at ease with the familiarity of the team and league and his body having been through the rigors of a full season at the young age of 27, there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to adjust.

I believe that the Red Sox are going to be far more judicious in how they use Dice-K -- especially since Curt Schilling is slated to return the second half of the year and we will have Julian Tavarez in the bullpen for a backup (and David Pauley in Triple-A).

How would they do this? Perhaps by having him skip a start here and there or going on the disabled list with a minor injury.

Why?

Josh Beckett thinks it's what helped him in the postseason.

Beckett, who started his throwing program Jan. 3, admits that the playoff run most likely wouldn't have been possible if not for a 16-day stretch between starts in May due to a skin avulsion on his right middle finger. It was a lesson both Beckett, and the Red Sox, are taking into this season in regards to staying fresh for the stretch run.

"I think that really helped me," said Beckett of the hiatus. "If it's looking like we're going to get to the playoffs and possibly being in the same situation we were last year, yeah, I would be open to talking to them (about taking extra time off). Obviously, I would want it to be on my terms because I wouldn't want to be feeling good and then have them say, `OK, it's time for your time off.' There are certain times of the year where your shoulder might be barking a little bit that might be a good time (for a rest). I would want it to be on my terms and I don't think (the team) would ever do it without consulting.

"We would all sit down and talk when that would happen. I think it definitely helped me last year, there's no doubt about it. Whether it was to pitch on three days' rest if I needed to, or the possibility of going on two days' rest out of the bullpen, there's no way I would be able to do that stuff if I didn't have that time off."

While the article is about Beckett, I think you'll see the Red Sox take that lesson and apply it to the other starting pitchers, too.

Might we be at the start of a new age, an age where people utilize a five-man rotation and have a swingman in the bullpen that consistently gets starts? That's a discussion for another time, but in a nutshell, I fully expect Dice-K to do better this year, both from natural progression and from a team more inclined to give him a breather now and then in the hopes he'll pull a October 2007 Josh Beckett on all of us in October 2008.