YU DARVISH AND DAISUKE MATSUZAKA: JAPAN'S HIGH-PRICED PITCHERS AND THE MAJORS

YU DARVISH

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Yu Darvish pitcher is regarded as one of the best players in Japan. The son of an Iranian father and Japanese mother, he was a star at Tohuko High School and began playing pro ball at the age of 18. He is tall (6 feet 5), throws hard (95 mph) and has seven superb pitches. One Major League scout told the Los Angeles Times, “He’s outstanding, he’s got velocity. He’s got pinpoint control. Very good motion. Looks like he’ll be able to eat up innings...he’s close to a finished product at 22.” But this far he has no ambition to play in the Major Leagues and won’t be available as a free agent until 2014 although he could be “posted” earlier as Matsuzaka was. .

Darvish’s Iranian businessman father met his Japanese mother at Eckerd College in Florida, where he played soccer. Known in Iran by the Arabic name Fardi, which means “unique,” Darvish was picked No. 1 in the 2004 Japanese baseball draft, signed before he finished high school and was suspended from the team and his school not long after that for smoking in gambling hall (he was under legal age for both). Two years later he posed nude for a magazine.

Darvish married the actress Saeko Dokyu, when both were only 20. She was six months pregnant when they announced their engagement and three months pregnant when he told a stadium full of fans his girlfriend was going to have a baby. They met at a birthday party for an acquittance. Later they were divorced.

Darvish has superb control and throws seven effective pitches, including a two-seam fastball introduced during the 2010 season. Darvish turned pro in 2005 at 18. His professional career got off to a rocky start when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training, despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time.

  • Yu Darvish in Japan
  • Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in seven seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was a two-time Pacific League MVP and a five-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts three times, in ERA twice and won two Gold Gloves.

    After going 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in his rookie season with the Fighters, Darvish had a breakout year in 2006, going 12-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 115 strikeouts. Darvish pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts. “I think he can be the best in the world,” his former coach Trey Hillman told an Asian newspaper.

    Darvish was named Pacific League MVP and was given the Sawamura award---the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award---in 2007 at the age of 21, with a 15-6 record and 1.82 ERA and Japan-best 210 strikeouts. He was rewarded with a contract in that made him the youngest player to earn ¥200 million. In 2008 he went 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA and signed a deal worth ¥270 million for the 2009 season which was ¥70 million more than he was paid in 2008.

    Darvish was voted the MVP of the Pacific League in 2009 despite spending much of the of end of the season with a string of injuries, including a broken finger on his pitching hand. He went 15-5 for the season with a league-leading ERA of 1.73.

    In 2011 Darvish became the highest paid player in Japanese baseball when he resigned with Nippon Ham for ¥500 million (about $6 million) a year, more than the ¥430 million earned by third baseman Michihiro Ogasawara of the Yomiuri Giants and closer Hitoki Iwase of the Chunichi Dragons.

    Darvish lead the Japan League with a 1.78 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 2010. He win total was in double figures for the 8th consecutive year. His record was 12-8 in 26 starts. He went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA in 2011. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League. That year he made the equivalent of about $6 million. Early in the 2011 season, Darvish had a streak of 46 scoreless innings. The streak ended against the Hanshin Tigers with a run that was brought in with a wild pitch.

    Darvish Goes to the Texas Rangers in the Major League

    In January 2012, the Texas Rangers, who were coming off consecutive World Series appearances spent a a whopping $107 million to acquire Darvish. After paying a record $51,703,411 posting bid for exclusive negotiating rights, Texas gave him a six-year deal that guarantees him $56 million. The last two numbers of the posting figure are the jersey numbers of Rangers President and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan (34) and Darvish (11). [Ibid]

    In December 2011, the Rangers won rights to negotiate with Darvish after agreeing to the posting fee was $51.7 million. AP reported, The Texas Rangers won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes and the chance to negotiate a contract with Japan's top pitcher. Major League Baseball announced that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League informed the U.S. commissioner's office that they have accepted the highest bid for Darvish. That sealed bid was submitted under the posting system by the Rangers, winners of the past two AL pennants. Now, they have 30 days to sign Darvish to a deal. "Our ownership went the extra mile on this one," general manager Jon Daniels said. [Source: AP, December 19, 2011]

    The 25-year-old right-hander is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues and several of baseball's biggest spenders were thought to be interested in him. It's a major move for the Rangers, buoyed by a lucrative television contract and consecutive AL championships under a new ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg and his partner, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. "Obviously, it's a very exciting night for our organization, our fans and our community," Daniels said. "We're looking for any opportunity to improve our club, not just for next season but for the long term."

    Bidding for the posting fee closed and the Ham Fighters had until 5 p.m. EST to accept. The fee will be paid only if an agreement is reached with Darvish's agents, Arn Tellem and Don Nomura. If no deal is reached, Darvish returns to the Fighters for another season. The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the major leagues under the system. "Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world," Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month. [Ibid]

    Darvish Signs a $56 Million, Six-year Contract with the Texas Rangers

    In January 2012, Darvish signed the $56 million deal with Rangers. AP reported: “Japan's best pitcher will play for the Texas Rangers, who scouted him for more than two years and then needed nearly every minute of a 30-day negotiating window before finalizing a $56 million, six-year contract. "The Rangers more so than any other team showed great, not only interest in scouting him, but a lot of personal time in developing a relationship with him," said Arn Tellem, one of Darvish's agents. "That personal connection was very significant to Yu and his family.' "Yu is excited about helping a team that has not won achieve that goal," Tellem said. "He's really thrilled to be coming here. This is where he wanted to be." [Source: AP, January 18, 2012]

    "When you talk about those kind of dollars, it's high risk, but I also think he's probably the most upside player I've ever seen come out of Japan," Ryan said. "Having a free agent of that age, and with the fact that he's been durable and has such feel for the baseball, I just think that he's extremely unique."

    Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who described the move as a "step-out deal" for the team, said negotiations were never contentious. He said there were good reasons for Texas to want a six-year deal. "How often do you get a chance to sign a 25-year-old free agent? It's a pretty unique opportunity, so you tend to look at things a little differently when you look at somebody that age and the years of the deal take him into his prime," Daniels said. "And secondly, with the nature of the posting process and the size of the post, size of our bid, it made sense to amortize it out over a longer period." Darvish was home in Japan, where he returned for offseason training after his first and only visit to Texas two weeks before.

    "The thing that stood out probably is just his passion for the game and trying to be the best he can possibly be," said Ryan, the major league strikeout king who pitched a record 27 seasons. The deal surpasses what Daisuke Matsuzaka got when he left Japan and signed with the Boston Red Sox just more than five years ago. Dice-K got a $52 million, six-year deal and the Red Sox also had to pay a $51.111 million posting fee that was the highest for a Japanese player before what the Rangers bid for Darvish. When Ichiro Suzuki used the posting system in 2000 to get to the major leagues, the Seattle Mariners won the right negotiate with a bid of about $13 million, then signed him to a $14 million, three-year contract. [Ibid]

    Darvish joined a staff that already had at least six other starting candidates going into spring training. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison were starters last season. Neftali Feliz is making the transition from closer to starter and Scott Feldman was a 17-game winner in 2009 before right knee surgery. [Ibid]

    Darvish Says Goodbye to Japan and Is Introduced in Texas

    In late January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Many fans lined up in the Hokkaido cold the night before to attend Yu Darvish's farewell press conference at Sapporo Dome, and they were among more than 10,000 spectators who gave the superstar a warm send-off. "The biggest reason [for this decision] was that I'm a professional player. I want to get guys out. I like to compete and that's my job." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 25, 2011]

    Darvish said he wants to rise to the challenge on behalf of Japanese baseball. "Japanese players are not thought of as highly as they used to be," Darvish said. "I didn't like the idea that Japanese baseball was looked down upon in the United States. That was a major factor [for the move]," he said. He then admitted softening his initial stance on a jump to the big leagues. "I've pitched here practically my entire career and gotten so much support, so it's very difficult to leave Hokkaido. Japan is a great fit for me, but I believe I have to move on in a different environment. Going to the States was the best decision."

    On Darvish’s introduction in Texas a few days earlier, AP reported: “Yu Darvish leaned over and looked at his name and the No. 11 on the back of his Texas Rangers jersey. Then he looked up and smiled. "Excited, that's all I feel right now," Darvish said through a translator. "Just excited going forward." Japan's best pitcher is now officially a member of the two-time defending American League champions, with his formal introduction in Texas coming two days after the right-hander agreed to a six-year contract that guarantees him $56 million. [Source: AP, January 20, 2012]

    The 25-year-old Darvishsaid he wasn't prepared to go into specifics about the several different reasons why he decided to make the move to United States now. But he said he felt no pressure and planned to keep an open mind and be relaxed---with his new team and in a new country. "I have no worries," he said. "What I'm looking forward to is a different environment, a different league and different hitters. I'm looking forward to it full of excitement." There is a lot of excitement in Texas, where fans are hoping Darvish is the missing piece that will help lift the Rangers to their first World Series title. [Ibid]

    Darvish smiled often during the question-and-answer session, though he said he wasn't prepared yet to say anything in English. Joe Furukawa, a Rangers scout in the Pacific Rim and one of their primary contacts with Darvish over the last couple of years, will spend this season with the pitcher to help his transition to the major leagues and the United States. Furukawa sat to his right and served as the translator during the bilingual news conference. [Ibid]

    The press conference was broadcast live in Darvish's homeland, where it was morning. It was held in a much bigger room that is part of the team's Hall of Fame area at Rangers Ballpark, instead of the usual interview room down the hall from the clubhouse. Among those sitting in the front row were Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, the oil-and-gas billionaires who are co-chairmen of the Rangers ownership group, and slugger Josh Hamilton. Simpson smiled when he walked in and saw the room full of international media. [Ibid]

    Darvish arrived about three hours earlier at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where he was greeted by a large group of media cameras and a handful of Rangers fans. There was a bit of a stir created by the photos of the arrival, when Darvish wore a T-shirt with the phrase "I Will Survive" surrounding the image of a Japanese Maple Leaf, which looks similar to a marijuana leaf.''In Japan, anything that's like a T-shirt with English words on it," he said. "We just tend to wear it, we don't really actually know what it means."

    Darvish’s 2012 Season in the Major League

    In 29 regular-season starts for Texas in the 2012 season, Darvish went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 1911/3 innings. The Rangers won 93 games. Darvish was the losing pitching in the AL wild-card game against Baltimore. He allowed three runs over 62/3 innings. [Ibid]

    Darvish started out going 6-1 with a 2.60 ERA and then leveled and entered the All-Star break with 10-5 record and 3.59 ERA. Darvish made the 2012 All-Star team after fans voted him in on the final vote. [Ibid]

    Darvish was selected American League “Rookie of the Month” for the month of April. AFP reported: “Darvish posted a perfect 4-0 record with a 2.18 ERA, including 33 strikeouts and 17 walks, over 33 innings on the mound in five starts to earn the award. He was just the sixth rookie starter since 1957 to win at least four games without a loss in April and tied for the American League lead in wins. In his first month as a Ranger, Darvish participated in just the seventh all-time Major League meeting between Japanese-born starting pitchers in a duel with Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees on April 24. In that game Darvish threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10. [Source: AFP, May 2, 2012]

    After being selected as an All-Star, Darvish said he did not think he was worthy of the honor. The SportsXchange reported: “Darvish believes he is not worthy of being an All-Star, even though he is among American League-leading pitchers with 10 wins and 106 strikeouts. [Ibid] "But personally do I feel like I'm an All-Star? I don't think so," Darvish told ESPN Dallas through an interpreter. "I'm also hearing that there's a possibility I might start in an All-Star Game, and to me, that's totally out of context, I think...I think the fact that I'm Japanese, first year over here, the Texas Rangers paid a lot of money for me to come over here...The fact that I'm an All-Star candidate, it's more of a buildup of who I am and where I came from and the media creating this type (of hype)." [Source: The SportsXchange, June 29, 2012]

    Darvish Gets His 15th Win and 200th Strikeout in the 2012 Season

    A high point for Darvish was when marked up his 15th win and 200th season strikeout in a late season game the Mariners. AP reported: “Yu Darvish can throw fastballs by hitters. He can also freeze them with the slow-breaking curve. Darvish surpassed 200 strikeouts in his rookie season while getting his 15th victory for the AL West-leading Texas Rangers in a 9-3 win against the Seattle Mariners. "Instead of trying to incorporate all the weapons he has, he's coming out of the bullpen recognizing what's working and he's using them," manager Ron Washington said. "One time it's his slider, one time it's his four-seamer. Today, it was his cutter ... and the slow breaking ball.” [Source: Associated Press, September 14, 2012]

    Darvish (15-9) struck out nine in seven innings. The 6-foot-5 right-hander from Japan often complemented his mid-90s fastball with a breaking pitch about 30 mph slower. "It's a tough pitch, something you're not used to," Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager said. "It definitely throws your timing off a little bit. He located really well with it. When he threw them, he threw it with a purpose.”

    Darvish retired 12 of his last 13 batters, striking out seven in that stretch. He allowed only two hits and walked two while throwing 79 of his 110 pitches for strikes. Darvish made his major league debut against the Mariners five months ago, a game he won after giving up four runs in the first inning. He had a 9.00 ERA in three previous starts against them. [Ibid]

    "Just the difference between throwing against them tonight and my previous outings against them, I think it's just throwing strikes," Darvish said through his translator. "Or more precisely not feeling like I have to throw a strike.” It was Darvish's third consecutive start of at least seven innings while allowing three hits or less. The only other Rangers pitcher to ever do that was Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, now the team president. He did it in 1990. [Ibid]

    With 205 strikeouts, Darvish is the first major league rookie over 200 since Daisuke Matsuzaka struck out 201 batters for Boston in 2007. He is the 16th rookie, sixth in the American League, with 200 strikeouts. He suprassed the Ranger team record of 195 strikouts.

    Darvish Decides to Skip the World Baseball Classic

    In November 2012, the Star-Telegram reported: “Darvish will not participate for Japan in the World Baseball Classic next year, and will be with the Texas Rangers for all of spring training. Darvish said that he consulted with coaches and trainers before making his decision, which ultimately was rooted in a heavy workload the past few seasons as well as the many changes he faced in transitioning to the major leagues. His goal is to get as well rested as possible to help the Rangers get back to the World Series. [Source: Star-telegram, November 6, 2012] "This was a very difficult decision for me as it is always a tremendous honor to represent my native country of Japan," Darvish said in a statement. "My ultimate goal is to help win a World Series with the Texas Rangers and to share that accomplishment with the great baseball fans in Japan. I look forward to next season and am excited about our chances of winning."

    Darvish pitched for Japan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then helped his home country win its second consecutive World Baseball Classic title in 2009. He went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 13 innings while pitching five games in the WBC. He was on the mound for the final out in the championship game against Korea. [Ibid]

    Daisuke Matsuzaka

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    at the World Baseball Classic
    Daisuke Matsuzaka was one of the biggest pitching phenomena from Japan. Known as Dice-K in the United States, he made headlines in the United States when he signed a 6-year contract with the Boston Red Sox that cost the team more than $100 million.

    Matsuzaka is six feet tall and weighs a 187 pounds. In Japan, he has been a national star since he was in high school for his feats of endurance in the country’s nationally-televised high school baseball tournament. He had pitched much few innings in his pro career than the Japanese pitchers that preceded him went he entered the Major Leagues and thus was in good health and had a strong arm going into the Major League.

    Tom Verducci wrote in Sports Illustrated: “The cherubic face of Daisuke Matsuzaka bears a mysterious contentment, the calm self-assuredness of a kid who knows something you don’t. Who knows the questions before the exam is given. It is as if the pitching gods have let him in on a great secret, and its safe with the chosen one.”

    Matsuzaka, who turned pro after starring at Yokohama High School, won 15 games in his first season with the Red Sox, then had a career-best 18-3 record in 2008.At the end of four season with the Red Sox Matsuzaka was 46-27 with a 4.18 ERA. After that things started to go seriously downhill. In 2011, year, Matsuzaka was 3-3 in seven starts when he went on the disabled list May 18. Less than a month later, he underwent Tommy Johns surgery, ending his season. [Ibid]

    Matsuzaka’s Career in Japan

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    with the Seibu Lions
    Matsuzaka starred at the Koshien high school tournament in 1998 as a senior at Yokohama high school. He threw 54 innings in 11 days, including two nine-inning games, 250 pitches in a 17 inning complete game for the quarterfinal. He did a stint in the outfield with a bandage wrapped around his arm in the semifinal and pitched a nine-inning no hitter in the finals. Among the pitches he threw were 90mph to 95mph fastballs.

    Matsuzaka was signed by the Seibu Lions in the Pacific League and was named Rookie of the Year in 1999, at the age of 18, with a 16-5 record and 2.60 ERA.. He threw a wicked 95 mph fastball. a good slider, a curve and change up. In one game he struck out Ichiro three times. A television show that honored his season was entitled Eighteen-Year-Old Daisuke Matsuzaka: The Super Rookie’s Spirit and Technique.

    Matsuzaka had a 108-60 record with the Seibu Lions in the Japan League, with a 2.95 ERA and 1,355 strike outs in 204 games. He won the Sawamura Award---the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award---in 2001 even though his record was only 15-15, and went 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA in his last season in 2006. He was the most valuable player in the World Baseball Classic in 2006, where he had a 3-0 record. He also pitched in two Olympics and won a bronze medal in 2004.

    In Japan, Matsuzaka had a complete game every 2.8 starts (the major league average is one every 33.8 starts). He won four Pacific League stike out titles, two ERA titles and one Sawamura award (the Japanese equivalent fo the Cy Young award). Matsuzaka’s performance in big games in Japan however was not impressive. He threw a shut out in his final playoff appearance with Seibu Lions. But he was 1-3 with a 7.52 ERA over 20 and third inning in the Japan Series. He also pitched only once a week. He was part of a six man rotation and Monday is a day off for baseball tams in Japan.

    Matsuzaka was voted the most valuable player at Word Baseball Classic in 2006 with a 3-0 record the same as 2009.

    Matsuzaka’s Pitching

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    Matsuzaka has demonstrated poise, power and skill and has a range of pitches, including 95mph fastball, two very good sliders, a good change-up, a cut fastball, two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a pitch known as the cut shuto (a hard sinker with left to right cut), a curve ball, splitter and change-up. He also has excellent control and gets good mileage out of his pitches. MRIs of his arm show almost no damage.

    His most famous pitch is called a “gyrpoball”---an unhitable sinking fastball with a spiral spin invented by two Japanese scientists and modeled after a spiraling American football. A song called Gball---played by by former members of the J.Geils Band and Extreme---was included on Matzusaka’s CD of favorite songs “Music from the Mound” with songs by American. British and Japanese artists,

    Describing his slow motion wind up, Verducci wrote in Sports Illustrated, “Matsuzaka’s pitching motion is an elegant haiku, beauty captured in three parts separated by two pauses that he varies from pitch to pitch. He swings his hands over his head, pauses, lowers his hands as he begins to turn on the rubber, pauses again, then unleashes all the stored energy in a violently quick motion to the plate in which drops so low that his right kneesometimes scrapes the dirt of the mound. It’s like nothing taught in America.”

    Matsuzaka told Sports Illustrated, “As a child I spent a lot of time imitating [Japanese] professional baseball players. Over time, putting the pieces together, that led to my own form being revealed. Not that it resembles any particular pitcher, but something that evolved naturally through practice.”

    Matsuzaka is also known for throwing lots of pitches. It is is not unusual for him to pitch 145 or 160 pitches in a game, On opening day in Japan in 2003 he threw 189 pitches. In his final season with the Seibu Lions in Japan in 2006, he threw at least 130 pitches in eight games, more such games than all the Major League pitchers combined. In Boston Matsuzaka has itched as part of a four man rotation, compared to six man in Japan. His teammate Curt Schilling said he “is a big league ace in the making. The question is, Does he throw his last pitch a 31 or at 39?”

    In spring training Matsuzaka typically throws 80 pitches from the flat ground, 50 pitches off the bullpen mound and 50 pitches at live batting practice. He did all this without icing his arm or his shoulder. His routine according to Boston coaches is “80 percent his program, 20 percent ours.” Many in baseball asked whether he was going t burn himself out or change the way pampered American pitchers were looked upon.

    Matsuzaka’s Contract

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    joining the Red Sox
    In December 2006, at the age of 26, Matsuzaka signed a 6-year, $52 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, which included a $2 million signing bonus, $6 million his first year, $8 million his second, third and forth year and $10 million his last two years. The Red Sox paid Matsuzaka’s team, the Seibu Lions, $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with him (the Mariners paid only $13 million for Ichiro), bring the total cost of the Sox to $103.1 million.

    The negotiations---involving high-powered American agent Scott Boras, who helped Yankee Alex Rodriguez snag a $256 , 10-year contract---were very tense and involving several back-and-forth flights between the west coast and east coast in the Red Sox’s owner’s private plane. Matsuzaka’s deal also included a physical therapist, masseuse, interpreter, Lincoln Town Car, first-class tickets between Boston and Japan, housing allowances in Florida and Massachusetts, and the guaranteed right to wear the number 18.

    The were stories that one of the main reasons the red Sox paid so much for Matsuzaka was too keep him out of the hands of the Yankees (it was thought the Yankees would bid $40 million for him but in fact they only bid $33 million and they felt that was too high). For a while there were worries that of an agreement could not be reached the whole deal would go down the drain, leaving Seibu without the money from the Red Sox.

    Matsuzaka’s First Season in the Majors

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    In his Major League debut in April 2007, Matsuzaka struck out 10 over seven inning with the Red Sox beating the Royals 4-1. Millions of Japanese woke up early to watch the game live. A surprisingly number of Japanese were on hand in Kansas City to watch the game.

    Matsuzaka’s first season drew a lot of media attention in Japan. Each day of spring training practice ended with two press conferences: one in English and one in Japanese. The later was attended by 150 Japanese journalist who carefully took in everything he said. Matsuzaka admitted later that all the attention did give him some stress.

    After Matsuzaka began playing for the Red Sox there were suddenly a whole bunch of Red Sox fans in Japan. Dandy House men’s salon cleverly picked up a lot of publicity by purchasing the space behind home plate for the first inning that Matsuzka pitched. The footage was shown over and over again on Japanese television.

    Fatigue appeared to have gotten the best of Matsuzaka by the end of the 2007 season. He had a 13-8 record with a 3.70 ERA on August 4. After that he went 2-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 11 starts, He finished the year 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA.

    Matsuzaka was expected to be rookie of year and win the Cy Young award but there were a lot of weaknesses to his game. He had the habit of giving up a lot of walks and throwing a lot pitches early in the game. He sometimes threw 120 pitches in six innings. Often when he won or at least didn’t lose it was because the Red Sox sluggers bailed him out. His face-off with Ichiro were particularly scrutinized by the Japanese press. The two had faced each other 35 times in Japan. .

    Matsuzaka’s in his First World Series

    Matsuzaka and Japanese relief pitcher Hideki Okajima helped the Boston Red Sox win their second World Series in three years with a sweep of the National League champions the Colorado Rockies in four games.

    Matsuzaka became the first Japanese pitcher to win a World Series game when he won game three in a rout with 5½ innings of skilled pitching, augmented by a bases-loaded single that drove in two runs.

    In American League championship Matsuzka put in a disappointing performance in Game 3 getting knocked out in the first inning in 4-2 loss to Cleveland, giving up a two run home runs and two runs on a walk and three singles, putting the Red Sox behind the Indians 3-1 in the series. He started Game 2 of the first round of the series against the Los Angeles Angels and walked away with a no decision. He redeemed himself in Game 7, pitching masterfully in 11-2 Red Sox victory that gave the Red Sox a ticket to World Series. Matsuzaka pitched five solid inning, allowing two runs over six innings, followed by two scoreless inning by Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon,

    Matsuzaka’s Second Season in the Majors

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    at the Baseball Classic
    Matsuzaka was the starter for th Red Sox in the Opening Day game for the Major Leagues in 2008 at Tokyo Dome. The Boston Red Sox beat the Oakland A in a 10 inning thriller 6-5 with a tying run in the 9th inning and winning run in the 10th. Matsuzaka looked nervous and gave up two runs in the first inning before settling down and putting in four scoreless innings. Matsuzaka originally said he was going to miss the game because his wife was expecting their first child around that time but his son arrived a week early and he was able to make the game.

    In 2008, Matsuzaka got off to a good start---he began the season with an 8-0 record a 2.53 ERA and opponents batting .195 against him---and then lost his form. He sat out almost a month with a shoulder injury, a mild strain of his rotator cup. He was a little shaky upon his return but quickly found his form.

    In late August 2008, Matsuzaka won his 16th game, tying Nomo for most single season wins, giving up only two hits over eight inning in 8-0 victory over the White Sox. He finished the season with an 18-3 record a 2.90 ERA in 29 starts but also led the teams in walks. For a while he led the American League in bases on ball, often walking at least five batters a game. The ironic thing is that Matsuzaka was able to won most those games, at one point winning six of eight of them. Matsuzaka might have won the Cy Young award were it not for the fine performance of Cleveland’s Cliff Lee (22-3, 2.54).

    Matsuzaka pitched a great game in the American league championship opener. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning leading the Red Sox to a 2-0 victory. But that isn’t to say he all went smoothly. He walked the bases loaded in the first inning.

    Matsuzaka in 2009, 2010 and 2011

    Matsuzaka was voted the tournament’s most valuable player again at Word Baseball Classic in 2009 with a 3-0 record the same as 2006.

    In 2009 Matsuzaka didn’t get his first win until June. In eight starts he was 1-5 with a 8.23 ERA. It was determined that his poor performance was the result of weakness in his right shoulder. He was put on the disabled list in June. The Red Sox had difficulty figuring out what was wrong. An MRI shows no structural damage.

    After the World Baseball Classic in April in which he was named MVP, Matsuzaka look poor at spring training, going 0-1 with a 12.79 ERA.

    Matsuzaka made $14 million in 2010. Matsuzaka made his 2010 season debut in early May and looked good for four innings, giving up one hit, and then got hammered in fifth, giving up six runs to the Orioles who beat the Red Sox 12-9. He gave up four runs in the first inning in his second start. By his third game he had settled down and won with three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts. By mid June he was 5-2 and had on stretch where he pitched 15 scoreless innings.

    Matsuzaka began the 2011 season with some poor performances and some dazzling ones. In a 5-0 Red Sox victory the Angels, he pitched eight scoreless innings and gave up only one hit. When he was he was put on the disable list hiis record was 3-3 with 4.25 ERA. At that poin in his career her was 49-30 with a 4.25 ERA,

    In June 2011, Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. The operation was performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum in southern california. He told AP, "It's my first time to get an operation, and all I can say is I'm very shocked when it comes to this result...I was told the ligament is torn and to fix it perfectly I need to have surgery." At that time Matsuzaka was in the fifth year of a six-year deal with Boston. With a recovery time of 12 to 14 months, his future with the Red Sox is uncertain. [Source: Associated Press, June 5, 2011]

    Matsuzaka in 2012

    In 2012 Matsuzaka finished the last year of his six year contract with the Red Sox with 1-7 record, giving him a 50-37 mark overall in his six years in the majors with the Red Sox. On the 2012 season, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery, the path of his resumed career could not have been more bumpy for Daisuke Matsuzaka. Where that career will lead him now is anyone's guess. Matsuzaka finished the season with just one win, the lowest of his six years with the Boston Red Sox since his well-publicized move to the major leagues. While his teammates have offered words of encouragement, telling him it's best to just forget about this season, the 32-year-old right-hander said that's not so easy. "Coming back from surgery was tougher than I imagined," Matsuzaka said. "It's a season I'll never forget for the rest of my life." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 17, 2012]

    Matsuzaka's final outing symbolized the frustration of performing well below expectations. Facing the New York Yankees on October 3, none of his pitches were working and he was tagged for two home runs, accounting for five runs, and lasted less than three innings. Adding to the humiliation was that he lost to another Japanese, Hiroki Kuroda, who gave up two runs in seven innings. "Watching Kuroda's pitching from the bench was nothing but disappointing," he said. [Ibid]

    In June 2011, he began a grueling rehabilitation on his rebuilt elbow. During the tough workouts, he was spurred on by imagining facing longtime rival Ichiro Suzuki again. "I thought, this was the reason I had the surgery and why I'm here today," Matsuzaka said of facing Suzuki in the season finale. Although he set down the Yankees outfielder twice in that game, he certainly could not be satisfied with his overall performance. [Ibid]

    There seems little chance that the Red Sox, who fired manager Bobby Valentine after their worst season in 50 years, will keep Matsuzaka. [Ibid]

    Matsuzaka’s Lone Win in 2012

    On Mtsuzaka’s only win in 2012, AP reported: “All the offseason work, rehab starts and minor league outings finally paid off for Daisuke Matsuzaka . Matsuzaka returned from the disabled list with his best start of the season and Cody Ross drove in three runs, leading the Boston Red Sox to a 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. Starting the season on the DL after Tommy John surgery in June, Matsuzaka (1-3) earned his first big league win since May 16 of last season. [Source: AP, August 27, 2012]

    The Japanese right-hander made eight rehab starts before he rejoined the rotation in June, but went back on the DL in early July with a strained neck muscle. Then it was back to the minors for another five starts. "I tried back in June and I didn't get the results I wanted. I didn't feel like I'd be able to come back strong again this season," he said through a translator. "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."

    Matsuzaka gave up an unearned run and five hits, walking two and striking out six over seven innings in just his sixth start of the season. "Obviously he's going to get another start - two, three, four or five," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. "He might finish strong throwing like that." "He threw his slurvy slider inside on right-handers really well," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "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."

    It was the first time Matsuzaka's pitched more than six innings. "When I had to go back on the DL in July it was very disappointing, especially when I didn't expect my body to react the way it did," he said. "But the encouraging part was it wasn't my elbow. I didn't know if I'd be able to come back strong this year, but I felt better than I did before I had Tommy John ."

    Image Sources: 1) Japan 101 2) 5) 8) 10) 11) 12 Wikipedia 3) 4) 6) 7) 9) 13) Japan Zone

    Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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    © 2009 Jeffrey Hays

    Last updated January 2013

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