After Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up a double, a strange fielder’s choice, a popout, and an RBI single in his first four batters Tuesday night, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine made a visit to the mound.
Matsuzaka’s pitch count was at 21, but he had given up just one run.
It hadn’t reached the point it got to in the first inning of his previous start, when he gave up three runs on three hits and a walk against Miami, or the start before that against the Cubs when three walks and a hit cost him two runs.
He had done himself no real damage.
So Valentine asked the pitcher three questions.
“Do you believe in yourself?’’
“Are you ready to go?’’
“Can you forget about the stuff that happened?’’
Matsuzaka, said Valentine, replied, “Yes, yes, yes.’’
He ultimately turned in 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the Red Sox’ 5-1 win over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park, retiring 13 of the final 16 hitters he faced.
“He pitched pretty well,’’ Valentine said. “He gave up one run in that inning . . . that’s good pitching. That’s his best effort yet.’’
After shaking off his first-inning issues, he dueled with Toronto starter Aaron Laffey, who tossed six scoreless innings but ended up with a no-decision.
“There were a few hits that dropped in here and there, but to get out of that inning with just one run was encouraging,’’ Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. “It was a positive step, especially considering how my previous starts had gone.’’
He didn’t last long enough to pick up what would have been his first win of the season and the 50th of his major league career, however.
He ran up 100 pitches before being lifted in favor of Scott Atchison.
The pitch count was what irked Matsuzaka most.
“I threw a lot of pitches, which ended up causing the team to have to use more of our relievers . . . more stress on them,’’ he said. “So that’s something I’m really appreciative of, the relievers to come in and help me out that way.’’
Matsuzaka faced 24 batters and started 10 of them with strikes.
In the third inning, he was cautious about pitching to Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautisa, and Edwin Encarnacion. Rasmus was hot coming in (7 for 14), Bautista had hit his major-league leading 24th home run the night before, and Encarnacion had four home runs in his previous seven games.
Still, he retired them in order.
“They have a lot of hitters out there who are hitting well and who are capable of hitting home runs, so I was really careful of location today - almost too careful,’’ Matsuzaka said. “But for the other batters, I was hoping to get them out in one or two pitches. But in the end, my mentality was to focus on location and I was just too careful of that throughout the game.’’
“After having Tommy John [surgery], I’m still confident in throwing strikes even when I’m behind in the count,’’ Matsuzaka added. “But even with that, there’s just too many three-ball counts and that makes it very difficult to go deep into a game. So I just need to cut out those unnecessary balls here and there. That should really help me out in how I pitch the game and how deep I go into games.’’
Pitching coach Bob McClure said he saw a lot of positives.
“He did get into some situations where he was way behind in the count there, but I don’t think he was trying to be as fine as he has been before,’’ he said. “I think once he got into the flow of it, health-wise he feels better, confidence-wise he feels better. So, you know, those first three pitches are key to any starting pitcher.’’