Indians 3, Reds 0

Daisuke Matsuzaka believes he can be the Dice-K of old, the one
who mystified hitters with his unorthodox delivery and arsenal of
deceptive pitches.

The Indians just need him to a dependable fifth starter.

Matsuzaka, nearly two years removed from Tommy John elbow
surgery, pitched two hitless innings in blustery conditions and
seven Cleveland pitchers combined on a one-hitter, leading an
Indians split squad to a 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on
Sunday.

Once a $100 million curiosity in Boston, Matsuzaka was limited
to just 11 starts last season for the Red Sox, who parted ways with
the 32-year-old after six seasons. With at least one spot open in
their rotation, the Indians signed the Japanese right-hander on
Feb. 13 to a minor league contract, and will pay him $1.5 million
if he’s added to the 40-man roster this spring.

With winds gusting to 30 mph, Matsuzaka got off to a shaky start
in his debut, hitting Cincinnati’s Ryan Hanigan with his first
pitch before getting a double-play grounder on his second. He
allowed a walk in his second inning, but otherwise looked solid
during a 22-pitch outing, barely a warmup for someone who once
threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning game.

Scouts sitting behind home plate with radar guns said
Matsuzaka’s fastball topped out at 89 mph, but he’s not worried
about his speed this early in camp.

”That’s exactly where I expected my fastball to be at this
stage,” he said through a translator as more than two dozen
Japanese media members waited to speak with one of their country’s
biggest stars. ”The more I throw and the deeper we go into spring
training, I’m sure my velocity will also rise.”

Matsuzaka went just 1-7 with 8.28 ERA last season for the Red
Sox, but the Indians are hoping he can get somewhere close to being
the pitcher who won 33 games in his first two seasons in the
majors. Cleveland manager Terry Francona can vividly remember those
days when Dice-K was dealing.

”His stuff across the board was solid,” said Francona, who won
two World Series titles in Boston. ”He had the ability like no
other pitcher to wiggle out of jams. There could be bases loaded
and nobody out, we’d be on the edge of our seat and he wasn’t. He
got out of it like nobody’s business.”

Although the Indians have upgraded their roster with free-agent
signings, their rotation remains suspect.

Cleveland’s starters had the AL’s second-highest ERA (5.25) last
season and Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, the respective Nos.
1 and 2 arms, went a combined 20-32 with a 5.15 ERA. The club
signed Brett Myers, who pitched in relief last season, to be their
No. 3 starter with Zach McAllister the frontrunner for the fourth
spot.

Matsuzaka is among a group battling for the fifth spot that
includes Scott Kazmir, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, David Huff
and Corey Kluber.

McAllister also pitched two hitless innings as the Indians won
their third straight over the Reds, who only managed a single from
Jason Donald in the sixth inning after scoring 10 runs on 18 hits
Saturday.

”At least we got good pitching,” Reds manager Dusty Baker
said, sighting strong outings by Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, Jose
Arredondo and J.J. Hoover.

The Indians scored three runs in the eighth on a two-run,
wind-propelled double by Omir Santos and Carlos Moncrief’s RBI
single off Josh Ravin.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto walked twice, but the 2010 NL MVP
didn’t get a chance to test his surgically repaired left knee
running the bases. Votto still hasn’t decided if he will play for
Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The Reds are
hosting the Canadian team at their complex next week.

For Matsuzaka, the two-inning stint represented a fresh start.
The Indians have rolled the dice that he can be what he once was,
and he’s sure it’s possible.

”I’m really happy that they have those expectations of me,” he
said, ”and I would like to answer to them.”

NOTES: With Francona in Maryvale watching Carrasco, Kazmir and
Bauer, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar managed the team in
Goodyear. … Indians DH/1B Jason Giambi admires how Japanese stars
like Matsuzaka and Ichiro handle the weight of expectations at home
while playing in the U.S. ”I have the utmost respect for them,”
he said. ”It’s unheard of the support they have, and they want to
make a good impression. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a whole
different ball of wax.”… Jimenez and Masterson will make their
spring debuts on Monday against Oakland.