NEW YORK — Daisuke Matsuzaka was the “best pitcher on the planet” according to the Red Sox when they signed him before the 2007 season. Local television stations broadcast his arrival at Fenway Park, such was the fanfare surrounding the righthander from Japan.
As Matsuzaka takes the mound against the Yankees Wednesday night, he’s not the best pitcher on the Red Sox roster, never mind the planet.
In what almost certainly will be his final appearance for the Red Sox, Matsuzaka is an expensive spare part getting the start only because there is nobody else left to take it.
Matsuzaka is 1-6 with a 7.68 earned run average in 10 starts and hasn’t pitched since Sept. 19 because of a series of poor performances.
But he will face the Yankees, giving the Red Sox one last chance to wring a little value out of the $103 million they paid for his services.
“There weren’t a lot of options,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “I didn’t know of any options, first off. I figured that we had six guys who were going to pitch at the end here and it was either have [Zach] Stewart pitch the last game or Daisuke pitch the last game.
“I felt with extra rest that he’d have the best chance at being the best he could be.”
Matsuzaka is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA in 10 starts against the Yankees. He has not beaten them since 2008.
That is true of most teams. Matsuzaka was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, pitching 372⅓ innings and making 61 starts. He pitched well in the postseason, too, winning three of his seven starts including the third game of the 2007 World Series.
In the four seasons since, Matsuzaka has made only 54 starts and pitched 293⅔ innings. He is 17-21 with a 5.42 ERA.
Matsuzaka has been a frequent visitor to the disabled list and had communication issues with team executives that were not related to language differences.
Matsuzaka also was resistant to how the Red Sox prepared their starting pitchers. It was not unusual to see four starters literally going in one direction before games and Matsuzaka going in another accompanied by the retinue of handlers the Sox were contractually obligated to provide him.
Tommy John elbow surgery ended his season in June of 2011. When he returned this season, Matsuzaka rarely pitched well.
“This year I didn’t know what to expect coming back from an injury,” Valentine said. “He hasn’t, I don’t think fully recovered. He says he has and the training room says he has. But I still think there’s a little mental hurdle that he has to get over.”
Matsuzaka will be a free agent after the season and given his lack of success, the Red Sox are unlikely to bring him back. It is uncertain what kind of value Matsuzaka will have on the open market given his frequent injuries and four years of poor performance.
Matsuzaka will face Hiroki Kuroda. The righthander from Japan has a 3.43 ERA in five seasons with the Yankees and Dodgers and made at least 31 starts in four of those seasons. He has been paid $47 million over those five seasons.
When X-rays taken on Monday showed Dustin Pedroia had a fractured left ring finger, it appeared his season was over. But he talked his way into the lineup on Tuesday.
“I want to play, that’s basically it,” he said. “I want to play and be out there for the guys. Yesterday was tough; we got our butts kicked. I’m going to try and go play and hopefully we play well enough to win.”
Pedroia has been assured that he can’t injure his finger any further.
“They said it’s only a pain-tolerance situation,” Valentine said. “Dustin always does more than you could ever expect anyone to do on a baseball field. Whether it’s when he’s running to first or fielding a ball or mounting up for that day’s activity. He’s extraordinary.
“Was I surprised when I got the text that he said he was fine? I fell off my bike, literally. I don’t know why I was surprised.”
Pedroia, who went 2 for 5, is incredulous at the idea of the Red Sox being in last place. Playing at least makes it easier to take.
“Nobody likes losing,” he said. “We want to win. It’s tough when you lose 91 games. That’s something we’re not going to be happy about, and we’re going to try to do all we can to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore.”
The front office, he said, needs to take action.
“We have money to spend,” said Pedroia. “Those guys can basically do whatever they want. We want to win. The guys that are here want to win. We don’t like going out there playing and losing ball games.”
Is Pedroia embarrassed?
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m a Boston Red Sox, I never thought in my mind we’d lose 91 games.”
Going to back to youth baseball and through high school, Arizona State, the minor leagues, and then the Red Sox, Pedroia never had played on a losing team before this season.
“It’s killing me,” he said. “This is awful.”
But for now, he wants to play.
“I like playing, it’s fun,” he said. “I get to compete in two more games, then I’ve got to sit around six months and wait until I do it again. Why not? There’s nothing else to do. I get to go home and play football with my 3-year-old.
Orioles OK with it
So what did Orioles manager Buck Showalter think of the Red Sox using what amounted to a Triple A lineup against the Yankees on Monday and losing, 10-2? “Nothing,” he said. “I don’t think. Let people handle their own. They know. I don’t think it’s really an issue for me at all and for our players. We got to figure out a way to beat this team [the Rays] and their pitching staff and that’s pretty hard to do, regardless of what happens in New York.” . . . US Senate candidates Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren were asked at the end of their debate on Monday if Valentine should return for another season. Warren said he should while Brown dodged the question. “I thank her for that,” Valentine said.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.