Dice-K discusses his sophomore year with Red Sox

BOSTON – The overwhelming media throng that followed Daisuke Matsuzaka’s every move last season has been reduced to a more manageable size. The incessant questions of firsts – first time in America, first time at Fenway Park, first time at other parks, first time facing hitters he’d never seen before – are gone.In their place, a sense of normalcy has emerged. That is, if Opening Day at Fenway with a World Series celebration can be called normal.”Last year, my first start here, whether it was the loud ovation or the flashy welcome, there was a lot going on. So, it might have affected me a little bit mentally,” Matsuzaka said. “This time around, I felt that I was able to approach the game just like a normal game and get into it very naturally.”After three starts last season, Matsuzaka had a record of 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA. After that, he ran off six wins in his next seven starts, while his ERA began to climb, topping out during that stretch at 5.45 during a no-decision May 8 against the Mariners, the Sox eventually winning.After three starts this season, including yesterday’s 5-0 win over the winless Tigers, Matsuzaka is 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA. He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and four walks, striking out seven.”I would hope there’d be a difference because he’s a year further along from his arrival to major league baseball, the United States, the Red Sox,” said Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “(There’s) a tremendous amount of experience on his part that he can rely on. And having that knowledge and that known commodity for anyone, I think, would create a little more relaxation and I think that’s what we’re seeing here. He was very relaxed in his last start out in Oakland and much the same tempo and approach yesterday.”The tangible evidence yesterday for Matsuzaka, who has added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire – a pitch he didn’t employ until last season until September – was getting first-pitch strikes early in the game.”I thought he established early on that he was going to command the strike zone,” Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I think further through the game, his 1-1 pitches he was 11 out of 14 (for strikes on the next pitch) and that’s such a big pitch. And again, he started right from the get-go attacking his spots and he carried it right through the game.”But it’s still too early to draw conclusions on this year’s edition of Matsuzaka or comparisons to last year’s, Francona cautioned.”I don’t think it’s broken down like that because he pitched well (yesterday). I thought last year there were a couple different pitchers, an early, middle, and late,” he said. “I do think he’ll be able to pitch more without handling things on the periphery or things for the first time or answering questions on a place he’s never been, a baseball he’s never used. So, when he doesn’t throw the ball the way he wants, it won’t be because of a new culture. It will be more baseball now, as opposed to a lot of firsts.”One of the most noticeable differences may be the tempo Matsuzaka has established in his outings this season, much quicker than the sluggish pace he employed in many outings last season.”I think it’s more from him feeling confident and relaxed,” said Farrell. “Any time a pitcher is in a good groove, there’s much less thought or introspective information going on. So the old adage starts to apply, ‘Throw strikes, work quick, and change speeds.’ I think you see that naturally come out with pitchers when they feel good about where they’re at physically and mentally on the mound.”Jason Varitek, who has caught each of Matsuzaka’s three outings, doesn’t see any significant differences in the pitcher this season, but acknowledged the quicker pace is beneficial.”That’s good,” Varitek said. “It’s good for the guys playing behind him.”Matsuzaka, who was warming up in the bullpen while the World Series rings were presented to his teammates, finally got to see his ring after the game.”The ring had been put in my locker at some poin

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