The Japanese rookie right-hander tries to snap out of his late-season doldrums Saturday when the Red Sox continue their three-game road series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.41 ERA) has pitched effectively for much of his first major league season but has stumbled badly down the stretch, going 1-4 with an 8.44 ERA in his last six starts and failing to make it out of the sixth inning in his last three outings. Fatigue is a likely factor for Matsuzaka, who is accustomed to Japan’s shorter season and six-man rotations.
He has not pitched since Sept. 14 against the New York Yankees, against whom he allowed two runs and four hits over 5 2-3 innings, but also walked five and threw 120 pitches. He did not receive a decision in a game Boston lost 8-7. On Tuesday, Red Sox (91-63) manager Terry Francona announced he was shuffling his rotation to give both Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling extra rest.
“At some point, there was going to be a three-day extra rest period,” Francona said. “We elected to do it now, as opposed to before a playoff game. It just didn’t seem to make a ton of sense. Rest is great, but if there’s any rust you’d rather have it now.”
Matsuzaka has a 3.42 ERA in four starts versus Tampa Bay, but only a 1-3 record as Boston has scored a total of just four runs for him in those outings. He lost consecutive starts to the Devil Rays on Aug. 15 and 22.
He’ll try to build on a strong effort from Josh Beckett in Friday night’s series opener. Beckett became the majors’ first 20-game winner and helped Boston snap its four-game skid by allowing one run in six innings of an 8-1 victory.
With the win, the Red Sox lowered their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two. Their AL East lead over the surging New York Yankees, once as large as 14 1/2 games, increased to 2 1/2 games after New York lost to Toronto 5-4 in 14 innings Friday night.
“When you’re playing this time of year, and you’re playing against teams that have a chance to go to the dance, there’s a different feeling … no doubt,” said Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose club hosts the Yankees for three games next week. “They’re definitely playing to go somewhere, and that matters.”
Boston’s everyday lineup continues to struggle with injuries. Manny Ramirez has missed 22 consecutive games with a strained left oblique muscle and is not expected to return in this series. Center fielder Coco Crisp went 0-for-3 Friday in his return after missing two games with back tightness, but first baseman Kevin Youkilis sat out his fifth straight game due to a bruised right wrist.
Those Red Sox hitters healthy enough to take the field Saturday will face Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine (6-9, 5.68) for the fourth time since Aug. 15. Sonnanstine has also pitched his best ball of the season over that span, going 5-1 with a 4.39 ERA in seven starts.
The one loss, though, came at home to the Red Sox on Aug. 21, when the rookie right-hander gave up seven runs and eight hits in five innings of an 8-6 defeat. In his three outings versus Boston, Sonnanstine is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA.
Sonnanstine won at Seattle on Sunday, limiting the Mariners to one run and six hits in seven innings of Tampa Bay’s 9-2 victory.
The Devil Rays (63-91) have now lost four straight games for the second time this month. They are trying to avoid losing five in a row for the first time since an eight-game skid from July 21-28.