BOSTON - Daisuke Matsuzaka essentially has five weeks to show people he should get another major league contract. If Monday's performance at Fenway Park is an indication of what is to come, suitors might be lining up to sign the free agent for 2013.
Matsuzaka, making only his sixth start of the season and first since July 2, came off the disabled list to throw seven innings of five-hit ball for his first win of the season, guiding the Red Sox to a 5-1 victory over the Royals.
Matsuzaka, coming back from Tommy John surgery and subsequent neck problems, walked two and gave up an unearned run without a hit in the first inning but settled in and threw 101 pitches (71 strikes) in becoming the third Japanese-born pitcher to record 50 wins in the major leagues. He reached the mark in his 112th major league game, making him the fifth-fastest Red Sox pitcher to 50 wins since 1918.
Matsuzaka (1-3) struck out six and won for the first time since last May 16. Three relievers finished off the finale of the four-game series with the Royals (Boston winning three).
"Obviously he's going to get another start; two, three, four, five," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He might finish strong throwing like that."
Matsuzaka was so pleased with his effort that he made reference, through his interpreter, to helping the Red Sox in the playoffs. Barring a miracle run, he won't get that chance, but he CAN save his career in the United States.
"I tried back in June and I didn't get the results I wanted," he said. "I didn't feel like I'd be able to come back strong again this season. I went back to my final two rehab starts and threw the ball really well. I knew if I could do that up here the results would come."
Cody Ross drove in three runs with two hits, and Jacoby Ellsbury homered and doubled off of losing pitcher Luke Hochevar (7-12). But the story was the enigmatic Matsuzaka.
"We couldn't get anything going against him," said Royals manager Ned Yost, who added, "What he did today and what he did real effectively was he threw his slurvy slider inside on right-handers really well. I mean he really executed that pitch well a number of times. So when you're sitting, looking out, away on him and he throws that slider that starts at you and breaks back on the corner of the plate, it keeps you off-balance really well and that's what he did.
"He mixed that in, he executed his pitches down, changed speeds really well and used that slider inside to our righties real effectively."
Said KC's Billy Butler, who went 0-for-2 with a walk against Matsuzaka: "The guy that was hyped up when he came over here lost some velocity on his balls and he's still working his way back from that. The type of stuff he had today was definitely what they were looking for."
James Loney, the only major leaguer the Sox acquired in the nine-player mega-deal with the Dodgers over the weekend, had an RBI single for the second straight day.
The Red Sox made news off the field again before the game, placing David Ortiz back on the disabled list.
There is a chance Ortiz, a potential free agent who hasn't always been thrilled with his contract treatment by the club, has played his last game with the team. He's experiencing discomfort in the same heel that sent him to the disabled list on July 16. He was scheduled to have an injection Monday and will join the team in Anaheim.
For now, the plan is not to shut the slugger down.
"If everyone felt, if he had that desire and the medical staff thought that it was the best thing for his career, that would definitely be done," Valentine said before the game. "But with the meeting of the minds, with David wanting to get back in uniform and the medical staff believing that there's a chance that he could, we figured that's the best way to go. We have the expectation he'll be back."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox, again playing without him, have won two straight games for the first time since Aug. 5 and 6.
NOTES: Hideo Nomo (123) and Tomo Ohka (51) are ahead of Matsuzaka on the Japanese-born pitcher MLB wins list, and all three have pitched for the Red Sox. ... Royals' centerfielder Jarrod Dyson made an outstanding leaping catch against the wall in center field, robbing Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. ... Red Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik went 2-for-4 and is 13-for-29 in the last six games. ... Right-hander Pedro Beato, who won Sunday's game in relief, was sent to the minors so Matsuzaka could be activated, with outfielder Ryan Kalish returning from Pawtucket to replace Ortiz on the roster. ... The Royals sent righty Jeremy Jeffress to Double-A Northwest Arkansas and recalled pitcher Vin Mazzaro. ... Bruce Chen, who will face the Tigers for the Royals at home Tuesday night, suffered what appeared to be a right ankle injury in the outfield before the game and was on the ground for several minutes. He got up and walked off without much trouble. ... Clay Buchholz faces Angels ace Jered Weaver in Anaheim Tuesday night, a rematch of last Wednesday night, when Weaver went seven innings to notch his 16th win of the season. Buchholz, who had been hot, yielded seven runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since May 21. ... Boston closer Alfredo Aceves served the third game of his team-imposed suspension for his run-in with Valentine and was scheduled to join the club in Anaheim, flying on his own and not on the team-chartered flight.