A calmer spring and big hopes for Matsuzaka Print
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Monday, 11 February 2008 13:54
MLB Headline News

 FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -The media frenzy is finished. The interest in the gyroball is missing. The curiosity about the brilliant Japanese pitcher is gone.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is no longer a major league rookie. This spring training is already much calmer than his first one with the Red Sox.
``I know where everything is,'' the $103 million pitcher said through a translator. ``I know the layout of the facilities and things like that, so it's been a lot easier being back this year.''
Only about 20 reporters spoke with Matsuzaka after his second day at camp Monday. Last year, at his first official news conference of spring training, there were about 100 media members plus nine satellite trucks.
That event was televised live to Japan, where it was 7 a.m. - must-see TV after Boston paid $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with him and another $52 million for his six-year contract.
Most of that pressure has disappeared. The burden of making up for the absence of Curt Schilling has been added.
gnored by most of the media. The blogger at 38pitches.com, Schilling, is the team's big story now.
``I think at the end of the season last year, I had already decided that I'd put a lot of pressure on myself this year to perform really well,'' Matsuzaka said Monday. ``So that was decided before I knew about Curt's injury. But now that I do know, I'd like to do my best to fill whatever holes I can.''
Dice-K had a solid shot at moving up to the No. 2 slot in the rotation, behind Josh Beckett, even before it was disclosed last week that rehabilitation of a shoulder injury would sideline Schilling at least until the All-Star break.
Matsuzaka will be in that spot at the first official workout for pitchers and catchers Saturday, two days after they're scheduled to report. Four-fifths of the projected rotation - Beckett, Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz - already are in camp. Only Tim Wakefield didn't work out there Monday.
Matsuzaka lived up to his billing as perhaps Japan's best pitcher from the start of last season, even though he playfully refused to say whether he had brought his perhaps mythical gyroball pitch with him.
In his first game with Boston, he allowed one run and struck out 10 in seven innings of a 4-1 win at Kansas City. In the first half of the season, he was 10-6 with a 3.84 ERA with 123 strikeouts and 38 walks.
was 5-6 with a 5.19 ERA with just 78 strikeouts and 42 walks. His fatigue peaked at an unaccustomed time.
``In Japan, it usually comes around June or July,'' Matsuzaka said. That's ``when I feel the most tired. I can build myself back up toward the end of the year and toward the playoffs.
``But what happened last year was I couldn't time it as well. So I just felt the fatigue just dragged on gradually all the way throughout September, so I wasn't able to readjust. But for me I felt like it was a little bit off even from the beginning of spring training.''
Overall, he was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA and was sixth in the AL with 201 strikeouts.
His problems continued in the playoffs when he failed to get out of the fifth inning in his first two starts before earning the win in the seventh game of the AL championship series in Cleveland when he gave up two runs in five innings.
And in Game 3 of Boston's sweep of Colorado in the World Series, he came through again,. allowing two runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 10-5 win.
Then his first major league season was over. He returned to Japan as part of a championship team. His journey from star in his native country to rookie in the United States was over.
His second spring training is under way. His regular season begins in Tokyo where the Red Sox will face the Oakland Athletics on March 25 and 26.
Matsuzaka's participation is uncertain because his wife is due to give birth about that time. He declined to talk about that on Monday.
He had no qualms about discussing baseball, especially since he can go about his business without having videocameras trailing him around camp. On Monday, few reporters watched him wrap up his workout with some short sprints.
``Compared to last year,'' Matsuzaka said, ``things are going to be a lot more comfortable, a lot more familiar. So, in that sense, there's going to be a lot less stress. So, hopefully, I can take some of that energy and really focus it on baseball.
``As for high expectations, I think I'm the one that has the highest expectations for myself.''
 

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