Matsuzaka (6-2, 4.06 ERA) is 5-0 with a 4.71 ERA in his last six starts and has been even better over the last three outings, winning all of them with a 1.88 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 24 innings.
“He had a little bump in the road, as a lot of people do,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the team’s official Web site. “Some guys have it in August. He fought through it and worked hard. Now we’re seeing the results of a lot of hard work and a really good pitcher.”
Matsuzaka has also benefited from strong run support, as the first-place Red Sox (31-15) have scored at least six runs for him in each of his last six outings.
“I think it’s really due to the fact that our lineup has been hitting really well and giving me the opportunity to pitch at my own pace,” Matsuzaka said.
The right-hander is starting to live up to the expectations that caused the Red Sox to bid a record-setting $51.1 million to negotiate with the former Seibu Lions star before signing him to a $52 million, six-year contract. Matsuzaka was named AL player of the week Monday after winning both of his starts last week and posting a 2.18 ERA.
“Every time he takes the ball, it’s different,” Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. “He has so many pitches to work with. Every time he’s out there, you have a different experience with different pitches.”
Boston hopes Matsuzaka can help it rebound from an 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday as the team dropped two of three to its division rival. The Red Sox, though, hold a 9 1/2-game lead over second-place New York in the AL East.
While the Red Sox were held to one run in seven innings by Andy Pettitte in the series finale, they hit .283 during the three games to increase their batting average to .277, among the best in the majors.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis has had a lot to do with that, as he’s batting .443 with four homers and 16 RBIs during a career-high 16-game hitting streak. He’ll try to extend the run at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where he went 2-for-10 from April 6-8.
The Red Sox won only the finale of that three-game series, but will have Matsuzaka on the mound for the first time against the Rangers (18-29).
“I’m looking forward to seeing him,” Texas manager Ron Washington told the team’s official Web site. “Certainly, I want to beat him. We’re not going to run from what we have to face. Dice-K certainly doesn’t have a perfect record.”
Texas will counter with Brandon McCarthy (4-4, 5.82), who has won three consecutive decisions and posted a 2.31 ERA in his last four starts. The right-hander allowed one run and four hits in six innings of a 14-1 rout at Houston on Sunday.
“He hit his spots and used his fastball,” Washington said. “He’s just been outstanding the whole month of May.”
McCarthy, though, has struggled at home in his first season with the Rangers, going 2-1 with a 6.23 ERA in three outings at the hitter-friendly park. He hopes to improve on those numbers and help his team bounce back from a 5-3 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday - its seventh in 10 games.
McCarthy will be looking to duplicate his performance from his only start against the Red Sox on Sept. 5, 2005, when he was a rookie with the Chicago White Sox. He held Boston to three hits in seven scoreless innings of a 5-3 victory at Fenway Park.
McCarthy has also made three relief appearances against the Red Sox and is 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA against Boston overall.
Rangers slugger Sammy Sosa will try to solve Matsuzaka as he looks to become the fifth player in history with 600 home runs. Sosa has 598 homers and hit the first of his 10 this season against Boston on April 7.