FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Daisuke Matsuzaka threw batting practice for the first time this spring training and didn't have dozens of cameras and reporters recording his every move.
In his second season after the Boston Red Sox spent more than $103 million for the Japanese star, Matsuzaka can focus on preparing for the season without the hoopla that accompanied his rookie year in the majors.
``Most of the things that were a source of stress for me last season have disappeared,'' he said Sunday through a translator, ``and now I'm just able to practice.''
Matsuzaka got off to a strong start last year, then faltered and finished 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA. With Curt Schilling expected to miss at least half the season with a shoulder injury, Matsuzaka figures to move up to the second spot in the rotation behind Josh Beckett.
On Sunday, Matsuzaka threw batting practice to Boston's three best hitters, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell, plus Julio Lugo.
``Dice-K made a very positive move forward today,'' pitching coach John Farrell said. ``He threw the ball again in the bottom of the strike zone. His fastball command was solid.''
Matsuzaka also made a slight adjustment on the release of his changeup, which makes it ``a much more useable pitch. I think hitters will have to respect it. They won't be able to detect it so early upon its release,'' Farrell said.
Progress on the changeup actually began late last season.
``I was able to grasp a few points on my changeup that were really going to make a difference,'' Matsuzaka said. ``I just hope that I can apply those right away early on in the season.''
Despite the loss of Schilling, Farrell is excited about his rotation, which also includes Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. Rookie Clay Buchholz could have the inside track on Julian Tavarez for the fifth spot.
``The depth and the quality of that depth now is coming to the forefront'' without Schilling, Farrell said. ``We haven't taken a major drop-off in terms of talent, certainly experience is different, but this has got a very strong indication of a quality rotation again.''
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