PAWTUCKET â€“ To many Red Sox fans, Daisuke Matsuzaka has always been a man of mystery. Granted, the language barrier has made it next to impossible for the American populous to get a firm handle on the Japanese import, yet judging by the heavy media turnout for Matsuzakaâ€™s rehab outing for the Pawtucket Red Sox Monday, the right-handed pitcher is still very much a big deal in his native land.
The Japanese press came out in droves, as six credentials were issued to newspaper types with another eight given to television types/photographers. The delegation was so massive in terms of sheer personnel that an additional row of seating was set up in the stands directly below the actual McCoy Stadium press box.
As Junko Ichimura, a corresponding reporter for the sport-specific daily newspaper Hochi Shimbun, explained, any time Matsuzaka does anything of remote importance, itâ€™s considered newsworthy in Japan. The fact heâ€™s dutifully working his way back to form after not even being a year removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery is bigger news than the exploits of Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, at least to those who have chronicled Matsuzaka for quite some time.
â€śHis (30-day rehab clock) is ticking, so itâ€™s a big deal,â€ť Ichimura said. â€śUndergoing (Tommy John surgery), it was a big shock. Best scenario, we thought he wouldnâ€™t be back until after the All-Star break, but now it looks like he may come back this month.
â€śHeâ€™s still big things in Japan, especially now since he has a chance to come back and pitch in the big leagues,â€ť Ichimura continued. â€śThis is the last year of his contract and Iâ€™m sure heâ€™s going to be super-motivated to do well. He wants to show something.â€ť
Ichimura touched upon Bobby Valentine and the calming influence the Red Sox manager figures to register with Matsuzaka. If thereâ€™s a big-league skipper who understands
Japanese players and has immersed himself in the culture to the point heâ€™s able to engage in simple conversation, itâ€™s Valentine. Such an understanding comes from Valentine managing for five years (2004-09) in Japan.
â€śSometimes Bobby speaks in Japanese dialect, which will help Dice-K,â€ť Ichimura said.
For Arnie Beyeler, the PawSox manager has the luxury of placing power-hitting first baseman/DH Mauro Gomez somewhere in the heart of the lineup and building around him.
Gomez, who leads the team with 10 home runs, has developed into such a reliable source of production that Beyeler can take youngsters like Lars Anderson, Ryan Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks when he was here and place them in a position in the batting order where theyâ€™re comfortable.
â€śMauroâ€™s a proven guy whoâ€™s got some bang in his bat,â€ť said Beyeler. â€śHeâ€™s a threat every time he goes to the plate, so youâ€™ve got to be careful with him.â€ť
Not too long ago, the PawSox were one of the top squads in the International League, sending out a team that was top heavy with productive players. Privately, there had to be some Pawtucket officials daydreaming that if this team could ever remain intact, then perhaps something special could be in the mix down the road.
In a scene reminiscent to a band breaking up and everyone heading off in different directions, the PawSox team that returned home following a 10-game, four-city road trip is one that barely resembles the one that had ripped off nine straight wins and came within three outs of making it 10 in a row.
Pawtucket was able to win the last three games on the road swing to post a respectable 4-6 mark, one that was manufactured despite Beyeler & Co. saying goodbye to Middlebrooks, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller and Clayton Mortensen.
â€śItâ€™s fun to win here, but when the big league team isnâ€™t winning, nobodyâ€™s happy.
Weâ€™re here to help (the parent team) out and hopefully we have some guys down here when they need them can go up and help them out,â€ť Beyeler said. â€śThey want to take our guys â€¦ I hope they take them all.â€ť