GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — 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.