BALTIMORE -- Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn’t pitched in a game for the Red Sox since Oct. 2, when he struck out Kelly Shoppach of the Indians at the end of a winning, six-inning stint on the last weekend of the 2009 regular season.
Matsuzaka’s life since then: He spent six weeks of his winter working out in Arizona in response to a Red Sox mandate to report in better shape, sustained what the club called a back injury on the eve of camp that set him back for more than three weeks, complained of a stiff neck, the official reason the Sox gave for placing him on the disabled list at the start of the season (even though he said it was gone within a few days), raised red flags among Sox staff because of his mediocre stuff, became a father for the second time, and made three rehab starts in Pawtucket before being activated, pushing a simmering Tim Wakefield to the bullpen.
Saturday night, Matsuzaka returns to the rotation for a team that completed a disappointing April by losing, 5-4, in 10 innings to the Baltimore Orioles, who have won just 3 of 19 games against the rest of the American League while being outscored, 97-54, but have played the Red Sox even, splitting four games while matching the Sox in runs with 21 apiece.
Camden Yards hardly evokes warm and fuzzy feelings for Matsuzaka. While his hero, Hideo Nomo, threw a no-hitter here in his first start for the Red Sox in 2002, Matsuzaka is 2-1 with a 6.30 ERA in four starts here, giving up a staggering 24 hits and 13 walks in just 20 innings. He won his last start here, 9-3 last Sept. 20, but even that was arduous, as he threw 110 pitches before being dismissed after just 5 1/3 innings.
J.D. Drew’s two home runs and a tie-breaking single by Dustin Pedroia gave the Sox a 4-3 lead in the eighth, but Miguel Tejada tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a 417-foot home run off Daniel Bard, then won it in the 10th with a base hit off Manny Delcarmen.
Sox relievers have allowed more home runs (13) than Sox starters (11), even though the bullpen crew has thrown just 75 2/3 innings, compared to 137 for the starters.
All seven relief pitchers used by the Sox have given up at least one home run. Bard and Scott Atchison, who is now in Pawtucket, have allowed three apiece, while Ramon Ramirez and Scott Schoeneweis have given up two each.
Bard has held opposing hitters to a .147 average (8 for 47), the lowest among Sox relievers (Hideki Okajima’s line is a frightening .361/.425/.556).
ESPN researcher Jeremy Mills poses an interesting finding, that Bard has run into trouble when he stacks his fastball. Of the eight hits he has allowed, seven have come off fastballs, with six of those preceded by another fastball.
When Bard follows his fastball with an off-speed pitch, hitters are 1 for 10 with 5 strikeouts and a 41.2 miss percentage. Bard has doubled up on his off-speed pitches only seven times this season, with opponents going 0-6 with six strikeouts.
Daniel Bard (Pitch Sequences, 2010)
Sequence -- H/AB -- K
FB-FB -- 6/26-- 7
FB-Non FB -- 1/10 -- 5
Non FB-FB -- 1/5 -- 0
Non FB-Non FB -- 0/6 -- 6
In any event, the bullpen could use a break from Matsuzaka. We’ll be there to give you the rundown on his start.