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June 1, 2012 at 12:06 AM

Matsuzaka feels strong in tough-luck loss

Daisuke Matsuzaka
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – After allowing a home run to the second batter he faced in the game Thursday, it looked like Daisuke Matsuzaka could be in for a long night. Instead he allowed just one more hit in his 5.1 innings of work for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Leaving the game with his team trailing 1-0, Matsuzaka ended up being the tough-luck loser as the PawSox hitters could muster just one hit in 8.0 innings facing Norfolk (BAL) right-hander Chris Tillman. When these two pitchers squared off last season with their respective big league clubs it also ended in bad luck for Matsuzaka, as that game turned out to be his last with Boston before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Early in the game, Matsuzaka’s fastball was clocking in around 89-90 mph on the McCoy Stadium gun, but ticked up a bit towards 92 as the game moved along. The solo shot allowed in the first was on a 90 mph fastball left over the middle of the plate.

“I was trying to throw a fastball on the outside, but it ended up being in the middle,” Matsuzaka said of the pitch. “It actually went further than I expected it to go. Just starting off the game [well] is something I need to work on, especially in the next start.”

Other than that one pitch, however, Matsuzaka was lights out for the most part. 51 of the 76 pitches he threw in the outing went for strikes. He did not walk a single batter, which is always a good sign for him, and struck out four. He threw several good cutters around 88-89 mph in the outing, including one in the first inning to punch out former Red Sox utilityman Bill Hall.

“He did a nice job tonight,” said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. “He threw the ball real well. He was crisp and over the plate. He made some big pitches and kept the ball down for the most part.”

Matsuzaka threw more off-speed pitches in this outing than previous ones. One of his strikeouts came in the second inning on a very nice 79 mph curveball that froze the batter. He said that relying less on his fastball than in previous outings was a product of worrying less about his elbow and just pitching.

“For a while the biggest concern for me on the mound was my elbow [and] making sure it was okay, but today it wasn’t a concern at all,” said Matsuzaka. “As a result, it allowed me to focus more on what goes on between the batter and the pitcher.

“My body is feeling good right now, and that’s something that has been going on the last two weeks or so. It’s been a step-by-step process and it’s been getting better and better.”

Matsuzaka believes that his next start will be with Pawtucket as well, and he is aiming to hit the 100-pitch mark in the outing. As for being removed in the sixth inning when he appeared to be cruising along, he said he was surprised, but not necessarily because of his performance to that point.

“When Arnie came to the mound, I was a little surprised because I felt I hadn’t throw that many pitches yet, which would mean I felt strong out there,” he said. “I still had a lot left in me.”

Matt Huegel is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.