What to expect from Daisuke Matsuzaka

Jim Rogash

Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his first major league start of the year for the Mets on Friday night.

Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn't pitched in the big leagues since he started for the Boston Red Sox on October 2, 2012. That start, like many before it last year, did not go well. Matsuzaka finished the 2012 season with an 8.28 ERA and 5.94 FIP and served up 11 home runs in 45.2 innings.

When Matsuzaka signed with the Red Sox before the 2007 season, it was kind of a big deal. Boston paid $51 million just for the posting fee to acquire Matsuzaka from Japan, and they inked him to a six-year, $52 million contract on top of that. In his first two seasons, Daisuke made 61 starts and posted a 3.72 ERA with 8.6 strikeouts, 4.2 walks, and 0.9 home runs per nine innings. At the time, a 3.72 ERA was nothing to sneeze at, and his 126 ERA+ says he was 26 percent better than the average major league pitcher.

In the four years since then, Matsuzaka has made just 55 starts, thanks to a variety of injuries, the most significant of which was the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2011. While his 7.7 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine over the past four years weren't terribly different from his first two seasons, he had a 5.53 ERA and 80 ERA+. He's seen a slight drop in the average velocity of his fastball over the years, too.

Per Brooks Baseball, Daisuke has thrown six pitches in the big leagues, but he's relied mostly on his four-seam fastball, slider, cutter, and sinker. He occasionally used a changeup and very rarely mixed in a curveball. Marc Carig of Newsday spoke to a scout who's seen him pitch recently, and it sounds like not much has changed.

Matsuzaka signed a major league contract last winter with the Cleveland Indians after Boston let him go after his original contract expired. Cleveland kept him in Triple-A, where he made 19 starts and posted a 3.92 ERA and 3.96 FIP. He was particularly good in his last eight starts there, with 45 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 2.45 ERA in 53.2 innings. When it became apparent earlier this week that Cleveland wouldn't call him up, Daisuke asked for and was granted his release so he could seek a major league roster spot elsewhere.

That the Mets signed him makes plenty of sense. The team isn't contending and has a vacancy in its starting rotation now that Jenrry Mejia is getting surgery for the bone spurs in his elbow and Jeremy Hefner is likely heading for Tommy John surgery of his own. On top of the injuries, most of the team's pitching prospects are nearing innings caps for the season that would have prevented the Mets from calling them up with or without Daisuke.

Matsuzaka gets a major league audition in hopes of returning to the big leagues full time next year. It would be surprising if he pitches well since he's had so much trouble in the big leagues over the last four years. He'll be thrown right into the fire tonight as he faces the Detroit Tigers, baseball's highest-scoring team.

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