Matsuzaka seeks a more consistent effort Wednesday, and Boston’s hitters look to remain hot in the middle game of a three-game set with the slumping Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
After signing a $52 million, six-year deal in December to leave Japan and join the Red Sox, Matsuzaka (3-2, 5.45 ERA) compiled a 2.70 ERA in his first three starts for Boston, including a tough-luck 2-1 loss at Toronto on April 17. The right-hander yielded two runs and three hits in six innings, striking out 10 — including four in a row during one stretch.
“He’s only going to get better,” said Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas, who struck out twice against Matsuzaka. “He can pitch, he knows what he’s doing out there. He knows how to get guys chasing, too. That’s the sign of a great pitcher.”
Matsuzaka has struggled with his control since facing Toronto, though, allowing 17 runs in 18 innings over three starts with 10 walks and three hit batsmen. Last Thursday against Seattle, he gave up five first-inning runs before recovering to last five innings, finishing with seven runs, five hits and five walks allowed while striking out just one—a career low.
“During the past few games, the manager, the coaching staff and (catcher Jason Varitek) have all told me to be confident in my own stuff,” Matsuzaka said through a translator. “I definitely know that I need to change something.”
However, the Boston offense has bailed out Matsuzaka. He’s posted a 2-0 record in his last three outings thanks to 20 runs of support.
The Red Sox (21-10) put on another impressive hitting show in Tuesday night’s series opener. Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis all homered, and Josh Beckett cruised to his major league-leading seventh win in Boston’s 9-2 victory.
Varitek, who went 4-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored, is 9-for-17 in his last five games, raising his season batting average 59 points to .284. The Red Sox have won nine of their last 12, averaging 5.3 runs in that span.
Tuesday’s defeat was the seventh straight for the Blue Jays, who have fallen to the bottom of the AL East—8 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox. The skid matched Toronto’s longest from last season. The Blue Jays (13-19) are trying to avoid losing eight in a row for the first time since a nine-game losing streak from April 24-May 3, 2002.
“One win right now would do wonders,” manager John Gibbons said.
They’ll send Tomo Ohka (2-3, 5.50) to the mound to face Boston for the third time in seven starts this season. Ohka, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1999-2001, but had not faced them prior to this season, has split his two starts against Boston. He gave up seven runs over 11 1-3 innings in those outings.
The right-hander had his longest start of the season last Friday at Texas, but took the loss in a 7-1 defeat. He yielded seven runs and 10 hits, including two homers, in 7 1-3 innings.