April 25, 2012

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Dice-K will start in Portland on Saturday

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Dice-K is coming to Hadlock Field.

click image to enlarge

Daisuke Matsuzaka

MLB Photos via Getty Images

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch for the Portland Sea Dogs on Saturday, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine told reporters Tuesday before Boston's game in Minnesota.

Matsuzaka, 31, will start for the Sea Dogs in their 1 p.m. game against the Reading Phillies. According to Sea Dogs officials, there are 1,900 tickets remaining for the game.

Recovering from "Tommy John" ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow last year, Matsuzaka began a rehab assignment this week, featuring appearances in minor league games.

It is not known how long Matsuzaka will pitch Saturday. In his first rehab appearance, on Monday with the advanced Class A Salem Red Sox, Matsuzaka pitched four innings.

In that Salem game, Matsuzaka gave up three runs and six hits. He allowed leadoff home runs in both the first and second innings, but finished strong, retiring six of the last seven batters he faced.

After Monday's game, it was not clear where Matsuzaka was headed. He could have stayed with Salem, which is a level below the Double-A Sea Dogs. But Valentine said late Tuesday afternoon that Dice-K's next stop is Portland.

Sea Dogs assistant general manager Chris Cameron said the team has not heard from the Red Sox yet about Matsuzaka's appearance, but expects confirmation soon.

The Sea Dogs can also expect a crowded press box. Eleven members of the Japanese media followed Matsuzaka to Salem on Monday.

When Matsuzaka began his rehab assignment, the Red Sox said it might be for five starts, so it is feasible that Matsuzaka could make two starts in Portland. If everything goes well with Matsuzaka's health Saturday, his next start would likely be Thursday, May 3.

The Sea Dogs are home to the Trenton Thunder at 6 p.m. that night. Pawtucket, which is where Matsuzaka will eventually finish his rehab assignment, is at Toledo on May 3.

While this will be Matsuzaka's first appearance at Hadlock Field, it is not his first time in a Sea Dogs uniform. He made a rehab appearance with Portland on Aug. 30, 2009, when the Sea Dogs played the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester.

Matsuzaka has had a bittersweet career since coming to the U.S. in 2007. The Red Sox paid $103-million for Matsuzaka -- $51-million to his Japanese team, and a $52-million, six-year contract for the pitcher.

He went 15-12 his first season, helping the Red Sox to a World Series title, and then 18-3 in 2008. Since then, injuries and poor performance have combined for a 16-15 record over the past three seasons.

Matsuzaka's 2011 season ended with his elbow injury on May 17. He underwent Tommy John surgery last June 10.

Now he is on the comeback trail, with at least one stop in Portland on Saturday.

Matsuzaka is not the only major leaguer pitching in the Eastern League this week. New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who is coming out of retirement, will pitch for the Trenton Thunder tonight in New Jersey.

If Pettitte stays with the Double-A Thunder for one more game, it would be in Portland on Monday.

Could be quite a home stand at Hadlock Field.

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