If Daisuke Matsuzaka wins one individual award this season it is likely to be the following: “Worst First Inning Pitcher in the American League.” The thought of number eighteen winning this award should come as no surprise to Matsuzaka watchers who remember the import’s 2010 season was greatly impaired by poor first innings.
Yesterday, Matsuzaka once again didn’t show up ready to pitch and the damage ended up being three Minnesota runs (and thirty-four pitches) in the top of the first. For those counting at home, Matsuzaka’s first inning ERA now stands at 10.50. Mind you, that obese number does not include the two runs he gave up last Wednesday when he came in to relieve against the Angels. Add that into the mix and Matsuzaka has given up nine earned runs in seven debut innings.
This year’s first inning struggles are really just a continuation of what we saw last year when Matsuzaka tallied a first inning ERA of 7.56. This was a sharp increase over his career number which stood at 4.56 before it was dragged North during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Now Matsuzaka was never a great starter but his first inning numbers in 2007 and 2008 were nowhere close to this bad. And even though Matsuzaka has run into some bad first inning luck this season, as he did yesterday, the fact of the matter is Daisuke has pitched in seven games this season and five times he has surrendered a score in the opponent’s first at bat. You may want to dismiss that on account of it being a small sample but when you add it together with 2010, you sure have enough data to confirm a predictable pattern.
What makes this all the more strange is Matsuzaka’s numbers generally settle down quite nicely once he gets through the first. This year, his second inning number is high because of a single flameout against Tampa, but Matsuzaka’s splits over the past two years show he is generally a “plus” pitcher between the second and fourth innings. And this year, his slate is basically impeccable after the second.
So what is going on here? Is it nerves? Is Matsuzaka simply incapable of developing a feel for his pitches until he has thrown 20 of them? Is this something that can be addressed by shaking up his pre-game and between-start routines?
That final point seems to offer little chance of relief as the Sox have implored Matsuzaka to make adjustments. For whatever reason, the results have been uneven and I use that word generously. So the conundrum for the Sox remains …. how can they get this guy ready to throw darts from the get go? If they don’t find an answer pretty quickly, Matsuzaka very well could walk away at season’s end with a dubious piece of hardware.