FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One of the most telling examples of how popular Daisuke Matsuzaka was after helping the Boston Red Sox win a World Series in his first season was the ovation that his translator, Harvard man Masa Hoshino, received when introduced at the home opener the following spring.
Well, Hoshino is gone now, having taken a job with a company on the West Coast. The new man, Kenta Yamada, made his debut Wednesday, and while he was clearly nervous and whiffed on a few responses, he had no trouble interpreting Matsuzaka's response when asked where he was keeping Masa prisoner.
"He didn't like to be picked on by Josh [Beckett], so he ran away to San Francisco," Yamada said as Matsuzaka giggled.
Hoshino has left, and so has much of the goodwill Matsuzaka built up in his first two seasons in Boston, when he not only became the first Japanese pitcher to win a World Series game, but went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA as an encore in 2008.
The past two seasons have been a downward spiral in which Matsuzaka has been out of shape, hurt, ineffective or all of the above, the wins coming with maddening infrequency -- four in 2009, nine last season.
The Sox invested more than $100 million in Matsuzaka (including a $51 million posting fee) with the idea that by now, he would be a mainstay of the team's rotation. Instead, when future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, now a commentator for the MLB Network, lined up the team's starters for an interview, there were only four chairs. One each for Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Matsuzaka wasn't invited.
Manager Terry Francona, who artfully deflects the heat from his players, makes little effort to hide his frustration with Matsuzaka, an understandable if impolitic reaction.
"We've kind of been all over the spectrum," Francona said Wednesday. "We've seen him really good, we've seen him where he can't take the ball, we've seen him where he can't throw strikes."
Matsuzaka acknowledged as much Wednesday.
"In the past four years, he says he has had good times and bad years as well," Yamada said, translating. "He would like to use that four years of experience for a better performance this year."