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Red Sox: Dice-K’s Mysterious Season Continues on the DL

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Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 2009 season is one that, so far, has been mostly on the DL- not necessarily the disabled list, but more like the down-low.

The “injury” that landed him on the disabled list for the second time over the weekend remains a mystery. The ability to work out of jams that was the hallmark of his great 2008 season has mysteriously disappeared. And exactly how long will the Boston Red Sox be without their Japanese star? That remains a mystery as well.

But what is certainly not a mystery to anyone who has seen Dice-K pitch this season is that he is not the same pitcher who won 18 games with a 2.90 ERA just last season. His walk rate is actually lower (4.6 per nine innings) than in 2008 (5.0), and his strikeout rate is about the same. The difference is he’s getting hit much, much harder.

Upon first glance, it would be easy to say Dice-K is falling victim to bad luck in 2009. His opponents are batting an absurdly high .443 against him on balls in play, almost 1.5 times the league average. But his opponent’s OPS is 1.091, a far cry from the paltry .645 OPS against him in 2008.

His opponents’ 101 total bases so far in 2009 are almost at the same amount he allowed all last season (197), an alarming total considering his walks have not gone up. His 59 hits allowed in just 35 innings, which averages out to just over 15 per nine innings, has to be the most eye-popping statistic.

Dice-K has not looked like his familiar self all season. He had already gained a reputation for at times being frustrating to watch, but was tolerated because his style translated to success. This season, his mistakes are hurting time big-time.

Manager Terry Francona is aware of the apparent fatigue in Dice-K’s arm, but is still baffled as to how out-of-whack he truly is this season. He expects a long recovery time for his No. 3 starter.

“We’re going to have to figure this out. We have a lot of work ahead of us trying to get him back to being Daisuke,” Francona told John Barone of RedSox.com. “We’ll try to do what’s in his best interest, and to be honest, I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”

The light at the end of the tunnel for the Red Sox is that they can afford to give Dice-K a two-month vacation. It’s unlikely he’s suffering from anything more than fatigue, so substantial rest seems to be the best thing for him at this point.

The Red Sox can afford to do this because, of course, they have John Smoltz taking the mound for his season debut on Thursday against the Washington Nationals. They can seamlessly move him into the rotation without changing it.

More importantly, the Red Sox will not have to employ a six-man rotation, which may seem like a good idea for giving pitchers extra rest but comes with the risk of disrupting the routines of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and the rest.

A healthy Smoltz will more than likely provide the Red Sox with an above-average bottom-of-the-rotation starter. And let’s not forget, the Sox also have this kid named Buchholz pitching pretty well down at Pawtucket.

The Dice-K injury probably only makes it more likely that the Red Sox will deal one or more of Penny, Smoltz and Buchholz to acquire depth in areas of need, most notably shortstop. With David Ortiz swinging the bat very well recently (.333 with five home runs since June 5), they may not need to dish out a hefty package for someone like Matt Holliday or Adrian Gonzalez after all.

I’m still holding out hope for a Penny-for-shortstop deal happening soon, so they can simultaneously improve at their weakest position and give Buchholz a chance to pitch in the major leagues. Until then, everything is just speculation.

But as long as Smoltz pitches well, the AL East-leading Red Sox can rest easier knowing the weakest link in their rotation is recharging for the stretch run without being too much of a detriment to the staff.

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June 22, 2009 - Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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