Daisuke Matsuzaka’s record and ERA would seem to make him an early front-runner for the AL Cy Young award. Reality has told a slightly different story.
In some ways, Matsuzaka (5-0, 2.43 ERA) has been dominant in his second season in the major leagues. The Japanese right-hander has limited opponents to a .158 batting average, and the Red Sox are 7-0 when he takes the mound.
However, control problems and escalating pitch counts have plagued Matsuzaka. He has issued 27 walks in 40 2-3 innings, and is averaging a major-league high 4.36 pitches per batter. As a result, he has failed to make it out of the sixth inning in four of his seven starts.
Matsuzaka’s problems came to a head Monday at Detroit, when he walked a career-high eight batters in five innings. Despite the wildness, he allowed only one run and two hits and got credit for Boston’s 6-3 win.
“I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I think I didn’t achieve too much out there today - so what happened out there I’m going to leave out there on the field and start afresh,” Matsuzaka said through an interpreter on the Red Sox’s official Web site.
Matsuzaka’s control wasn’t an issue in his only career start against the Twins, a 5-2 Red Sox win at Fenway Park last Sept. 28 in which he gave up two runs, six hits and two walks over eight innings.
While Matsuzaka has given Boston (23-15) some nervous moments early in games, Jonathan Papelbon is suddenly doing so in the late innings. The All-Star has blown just 11 saves since taking over the closer’s role in 2006, but two of those have come in consecutive opportunities this week.
In Friday’s series opener, Mike Lamb’s two-run single off Papelbon with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Twins (18-16) to a 7-6 victory.
“It’s frustrating as hell right now, just because the simple fact is I’m throwing good pitches,” Papelbon said. “I’m just not finishing them right now and executing them all the way through the strike zone.
“It’s going to be a test for me these next few days to get back on the mound and regain that confidence, finish my pitches, and do a little bit better job of it.”
Lamb, Minnesota’s regular starting third baseman, came off the bench for the third straight game due to a season-long hitting slump that has him batting only .213. Matt Tolbert has been starting in his place.
“He has to step up. We signed him to do some things offensively, and hopefully he’ll get going,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Lamb. “He’s a veteran. He knows how to play. We know he can hit.”
The Twins will call up left-hander Glen Perkins (0-0, 3.14 in 2007) from Triple-A Rochester to start Saturday’s game. He takes the place of Scott Baker, who landed on the disabled list Wednesday due to a groin injury.
Minnesota is hoping Perkins, whose previous 23 appearances in the majors have all been in relief, will maintain his recent hot hand. He threw a shutout April 26 against Lehigh Valley, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate.
“The reason he is the guy is that his last two outings have been outstanding,” pitching coach Rick Anderson told the Twins’ official Web site. “Before that, he’d been very inconsistent, which is the reason why we sent him down. Not only to pitch more innings, but to find consistency with all of his pitches. And the last two outings, he’s been really good.”
The Twins have alternated losses with wins over their past five games, while the Red Sox have done so over their past four.