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Rolling the Dice on Dice-K’s Arm

Daisuke Matsuzaka at the World Baseball Classic.

After landing on the disabled list for the second time this season, Daisuke Matsuzaka is blaming his troubles (1-5, 8.23 ERA) on Boston’s rehabilitation procedures, claiming they do things better in his native Japan.

Yes, baseball is different in Japan. The pitchers are known for throwing longer outings and throwing more in rehab performances. And yes, the Red Sox are limiting Dice-K to tossing (not pitching) the ball every other day. But if Dice-K went through the Japanese system for so long, then wouldn’t his arm and stamina be in better condition? If he really wants to throw more and the Red Sox won’t let him in the rehab sessions, then why doesn’t he try throwing a ball around with friends on his off time? Throw rocks at trees in the park if need be; there are options.

If Dice-K wants to get his arm into shape again, he needs to stop making these excuses; they are distracting him and the Red Sox from proceeding with the rehab schedule. Dice-K is upset that the Sox won’t schedule a target return date for him; maybe there would be one soon if his heart was in it. Besides, remember how hard it was for everyone to figure out precisely what was wrong with his shoulder? You can’t rush a return to action until you have a very good idea what you’re dealing with.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to stop blaming the World Baseball Classic for Dice-K’s troubles. He didn’t lose once in it, and didn’t lose in the previous one either. And besides, what better way is there to practice for baseball games than playing in baseball games? He got used to working around hitters and waiting while his team batted. That should be good enough practice.

It’s not like Matsuzaka is a pitching guru, either. He was brought over to the Red Sox, likely in no small part, to being named MVP in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. When comparing his Japanese and American stats (from his first two years), they’re pretty average numbers. It was nothing to get cocky and brag about. Even his 18-win season last year was due to frequently piled on run support, which he has always needed to win games for Boston.

With all this in mind, Matsuzaka is likely done for the season. There has been some mention of sometime in September for a possible return, but if Dice-K won’t work on his rehabilitation, that probably won’t materialize. He can get back to winning games when he does come back; he just has to want it. Right now, that doesn’t seem like the case either.

Do the Red Sox need Dice-K back this season to succeed in the playoffs? The way Dice-K has been lately and on the mound this season, the Red Sox need him gone to succeed in the playoffs. Remember his last outing against the Braves? The very first pitch of the game was belted out of the park. When he was taken out of the game, the crowd was more cheerful and enthusiastic than I’ve seen them be in quite some time. We already have enough of a sporadic lack of run support and poor performances by John Smoltz to worry about without Dice-K back.

Besides, doesn’t this situation seem eerily similar to the Manny Ramirez problem? He had unnecessary gripes with the Red Sox organization, and some people accused him of playing poorly on purpose and complaining solely to get the Red Sox to trade him. Not that Matsuzaka is deliberately throwing his performances, but, like Manny, the Sox would be better off shutting down Matsuzaka and relying on someone else that would help the team make the playoffs in 2009…before more losing streaks cause the Rays to leapfrog into second place.

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