DURHAM, N.C. -- Daisuke Matsuzaka agrees with Boston manager Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox pitcher isn't quite ready to return to the big leagues -- yet.
Matsuzaka had his longest rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday night, but allowed five runs -- four earned -- in 6 2/3 innings of a 5-0 loss to the Durham Bulls. He threw 64 of his 95 pitches for strikes while allowing seven hits.
The Japanese star struck out three, hit one batter and gave up two home runs -- including one to the first hitter he faced, and a three-run shot in the sixth.
"Of course, the three-run home run isn't something to be proud of, but being able to throw 95 pitches and throw as deep into the game as I did is something positive to take away from this game," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter.
Matsuzaka has been on the disabled list for more than a year, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery last June and allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings in his previous start.
He made his fifth rehab start and third with Pawtucket, and hadn't gone more than 5 1/3 innings in his previous four. He's expected to start again Tuesday at Norfolk. Pitchers' rehab assignments may last no more than 30 days, and for Matsuzaka, that period ends next Wednesday.
Valentine has said he doesn't believe Matsuzaka is close to pitching in the majors.
"I feel the same way as Bobby. I'm not ready to pitch in the majors yet, especially after an outing like my previous outing," Matsuzaka said. "But if I'm able to consistently pitch like I did today, then I don't think my return to the majors is that far away."
Jesus Feliciano led off the Bulls' first by sending Matsuzaka's fifth pitch over the wall in the right-field corner. But he later found a groove, retiring eight hitters in a row, and didn't allow another Durham baserunner to reach third base until the sixth.
That's when he ran into trouble. Henry Wrigley made it 4-0 when he hit a towering three-run homer that cleared the 32-foot "Blue Monster" in left field.
Cole Figueroa led off the seventh with a triple and scored on Mayo Acosta's sacrifice fly to center. Matsuzaka exited after getting the next hitter, Feliciano, to ground out.
Matsuzaka topped out his fastball at 91 mph, was hitting 90 mph in the seventh and came up with a nifty defensive play when he caught Feliciano's line drive in the fifth with the heel of his glove.
"I was able to test all my pitches," Matsuzaka said. "I'm still at the stage of testing my pitches and seeing how my body responds to each pitch. ... I'm not at the stage of being able to think about count, think about exactly what needs to be thrown, think about the competition between myself and the batter."
His was just one of the big names in the dugouts that combined to make this one of the Bulls' most buzzworthy nights of recent years.
Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis, on the disabled list with a lower back strain, started a rehab assignment with Pawtucket earlier this week. He sat this one out after going 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI as the designated hitter one night earlier. He was expected to play third base Friday night.
Hideki Matsui, who played nine seasons with three big league teams and was the MVP of the 2009 World Series with the Yankees, reached base twice against Matsuzaka and scored on Wrigley's homer.
Matsui reached on a fielder's choice in the first inning -- first baseman Lars Anderson pulled his foot off the bag while reaching for a throw to complete a double play -- and popped out to left field in the third before reaching on catcher's interference in the sixth.
Matsui signed a minor league contract with Tampa Bay on April 30 and was assigned to the Bulls earlier this week.