Matsuzaka tries to beat the Tigers again Sunday at Detroit when his Boston Red Sox try to avoid a three-game sweep in their final series before the All-Star break.
Facing the Tigers at Fenway Park on May 14, Matsuzaka (10-5, 3.53 ERA) pitched the only complete game so far in his first major league season. Displaying the form that led the Red Sox (53-33) to spend $103 million to sign him in the offseason, the Japanese phenom gave up six hits and struck out five without a walk in Boston’s 7-1 victory.
“I was very impressed,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after that contest. “He’s the real deal.”
After a few rocky outings early in the season, Matsuzaka seems to have settled into a groove. The right-hander has given up two runs or fewer in six straight starts, and is 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and a .152 opponent batting average in his last four outings—striking out at least eight batters in each of them.
In Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay, Matsuzaka allowed only four hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in eight scoreless innings.
“I don’t think that it’s complete, but I do feel like I’m getting back to a good spot,” he said through a translator. “I’ve really been experiencing that over the past few starts.”
Matsuzaka will need to act as a stopper on Sunday. Boston has dropped the first two games of this series, following a 9-2 defeat Friday night and a 3-2 loss in 13 innings on Saturday.
“This is frustrating after a long night,” said Boston manager Terry Francona, whose team did not score after a David Ortiz two-run homer in the first inning. “We need to make a quick turnaround for (Sunday) afternoon.”
The Red Sox are just 17-18 since May 30, but will enter the All-Star break with a double-digit AL East lead thanks to playing in a division where the other four teams all have losing records.
Ivan Rodriguez’s two-out RBI single off Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon gave the Tigers (51-34) the win Saturday night. The victory was the fourth in a row for Detroit, which remained tied with Cleveland for the AL Central lead.
“I had caught 13 innings, and I was really tired,” Rodriguez said. “That guy’s not easy to hit, but I just wanted to drive something.”
The Tigers are going for their first three-game sweep of the Red Sox since June 22-24, 1992, at the old Tiger Stadium.
They’ll try to do it with struggling Nate Robertson (4-6, 4.86) on the mound seeking his first win since May 19. The left-hander is 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA and opponents are batting .363 in his last five starts.
Robertson also was the losing pitcher against Matsuzaka and the Red Sox on May 14, when he allowed three runs and a season-high 11 hits in five innings. He is 1-3 with a 6.55 ERA in six career starts versus Boston.
Tigers All-Star second baseman Placido Polanco may miss this contest after leaving Saturday’s game in the eighth inning with a strained ribcage muscle. Polanco was 0-for-3 after going 6-for-10 in his previous two games.