Though he is now in his third year in the United States, it is increasingly clear that Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox still are dealing with their differences as they approach the issue of how to keep the pitcher both healthy and effective. That much became apparent in an article that appeared in Japan on Monday.
In the story, Matsuzaka suggested that his effectiveness and health are being negatively impacted by the training techniques of the team. He blamed his current predicament on an inability by the club to account for the needs of Japanese pitchers, and suggested that he was ready to take a stand in an effort to return to the practices that he followed before coming to Major League Baseball.
Matsuzaka is currently in Fort Myers while on the 15-day disabled list with what is described as a mild right shoulder strain. It is his second D.L. stint of the year due to shoulder weakness.
While pitching in the majors, he was tattooed by opposing hitters, going 1-5 with an 8.43 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .378. Those numbers stood in stark contrast to his first two big-league seasons, when Matsuzaka went 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA and held opponents to an American League-low .230 average.
The Red Sox consistently have cited the World Baseball Classic as the chief culprit for the pitcher’s struggles and subsequent time on the sidelines. Matsuzaka, however, blames his season on the throwing program and training techniques that the Sox outlined for him once he came to the U.S.
“If I’m forced to continue to train in this environment, I may no longer be able to pitch like I did in Japan,” Matsuzaka is quoted as saying in the article, which was written by Taeko Yoshii. “The only reason why I managed to win games during the first and second years (in the U.S.) was because I used the savings of the shoulder I built up in Japan. Since I came to the Major Leagues, I couldn't train in my own way, so now I've lost all those savings.”
According to the story (to which WEEI.com was referred by Harvard Professor Andrew Gordon), Matsuzaka still laments the fact that the Sox do not permit him to practice nagekomi, or marathon throwing sessions. The pitcher believes that such between-starts work increases arm strength and the touch for breaking pitches. The article suggests that Matsuzaka exhausted his shoulder in the WBC because the Sox would not permit him to practice nagekomi in his build-up to the tournament.
In the story, Matsuzaka articulates his belief that people of different ethnic, racial, and/or national origin have physiological traits that require distinct training programs. When he followed the same routines as his American-born teammates – which included more weight work than in Japan, but less throwing – the right-hander concluded that he was not realizing the same results. (It is worth noting that such perspectives about physiological difference and nationality, race and ethnicity, which are often treated as taboo in the U.S. due to their overtones of eugenics, are more common in Japan.)
In conversations between the pitcher and the club, Matsuzaka’s theories have been treated with skepticism and perhaps even discomfort. Indeed, the article suggests as much.
“Recently, when he mentioned physical difference between races, team officials were simply baffled,” the article said, in a passage that appears to represent Matsuzaka’s recollection of a conversation. “One of them responded to him in a cracked voice, ‘If I ever recognized such a thing, I would be severely bashed by the media as a racist.’”
The Sox, meanwhile, believe that the shoulder and training programs that they’ve developed lend themselves to success and health for their pitchers, regardless of nationality or heritage. The team points to the examples of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, among others, in citing their effectiveness.
More recently, Brad Penny has become a huge advocate of the team’s shoulder program. Penny insists that without it, he would have had to undergo shoulder surgery.
The Sox do not share Matsuzaka's belief that the WBC was blameless for his lack of shoulder strength this year. The team believes that the diminished quality of his stuff during the regular season was a direct result of inadequate strengthening and conditioning leading into the WBC.
Following his MVP performance (3-0, 2.45 ERA) in the tournament, Matsuzaka was not considered to be in shape when he arrived at spring training. He was both heavier and had a lower percentage of lean muscle mass than was the case last year.
Between the conditioning issues and the inadequate amount of time to build arm strength prior to the start of the WBC, the pitcher may have taxed his shoulder excessively before he was adequately prepared to do so. It is for that reason that the team wanted him to go to Fort Myers to focus not just on shoulder strengthening but on an overall conditioning program.
By all accounts, Matsuzaka has been completely committed to a rigorous workout program in the humid Florida summer. Sox manager Terry Francona has raved on multiple occasions about the pitcher’s work ethic at the extended spring training facility.
Still, the team does not pretend that it has always seen eye-to-eye with the pitcher about the routine that will best guarantee his effectiveness. But the Sox have tried through conversations with the pitcher to identify middle ground whenever possible, and to establish some basis for agreement.
“We have spent a lot of time communicating with Daisuke, not only since he’s gotten here but over the past few weeks to months,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We are very aware of a lot of his thoughts. We also respect them.
“We try very hard to keep all of our pitchers healthy, productive, for not only the short-term but the long-term,” Francona added. “We also try to understand – and we go to great lengths to attempt to do this – because communication in these areas is very important. And we will continue to do that. We don’t just talk. We listen.”
Nonetheless, Matsuzaka indicated that he may be less inclined to listen going forward. The pitcher cited the history of Japanese starters whose careers have endured steep declines (Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii come to mind) -- often accompanied by injuries -- after just a couple of years of effectiveness in the U.S. (It is, however, worth noting that Nomo rebounded from that decline to enjoy renewed success later in his career.) Because of such examples, Matsuzaka said that he is emboldened about the need to return to the training techniques with which he grew up.
“Until now, many Japanese players have joined the majors, but they usually only lasted for two or three years. I realized from my own experience that this was not due to their individual abilities but because of the difference in training methods,” Matsuzaka told Yoshii. “If someone doesn’t act, the way people think in the Majors would never be changed. I want them to understand this, not only for my sake, but for the sake of future Japanese players in the Major Leagues…
“They come armed with data and logic,” Matsuzaka goes on to say. “To counter that, I have to respond with my own logic and that takes a lot of thinking and energy, but I can’t back down on this one.”
Translation provided by Hiromu Nagahara.