Matsuzaka shows he's got the right stuff

Matsuzaka shows he's got the right stuff

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Everything seemed to stop at 11:32 a.m. ET on Saturday, when Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka stepped on the mound at Johnny Pesky Field and got ready to face hitters for the first time since his arrival in camp.

Photographers clicked at break-neck speed; reporters quizzed each other on which Minor League hitters Matsuzaka was facing; Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino took it in from behind the batting cage; manager Terry Francona also snuck over for a peek during Matsuzaka's 44-pitch session, which generally drew rave reviews.

All this excitement over a round of batting practice? Perhaps only Francona could truly say he's witnessed anything quite like it.

"You've got to remember, I had Michael Jordan [in the Minor Leagues]. And this guy can't dunk," quipped Francona. "So I have seen it."

Francona managed Jordan at Double-A Birmingham in 1994, and remembers similar buzz to what he's seeing this spring in Fort Myers.

"When Michael would take batting practice, you'd hear the cameras, kind of like you do when Daisuke [pitches]," Francona said. "It's a little similar -- that, and, I think, Pete Rose. Those are maybe the three who come to mind."

Interestingly, Matsuzaka started from the stretch, throwing 20 pitches before converting to the windup. As usual, he had a reason for doing it like that. Matsuzaka seems to enjoy testing himself mentally every bit, as much as physically.

"I had runners on my mind, in the back of my head," Matsuzaka said. "That's why I started from the stretch."

Once Matsuzaka went to the windup, his best fastball seemed to emerge.

"I saw him break out every pitch," Francona said. "Fastball, changeup, breaking ball -- he was commanding the ball. He looked like he had his feet on the ground. I understand when I left, he turned it up a little bit. I wish I would have seen it the other way around. But he's got that changeup that he turns over, which will really be effective. He's got good spin on his breaking ball. I thought he did fine."

The four Minor League hitters who faced Matsuzaka would certainly agree. There weren't a lot of healthy cuts off the bats of Jacoby Ellsbury, Luis Jimenez, Kevin Cash and Bobby Scales. This, despite the fact that catcher Jason Varitek told the hitters which pitches were coming.

The left-handed-hitting Ellsbury seemed to get the best rip, lining what would have been a double down the line in left.

"Changeup away," Ellsbury said. "I knew it was coming. Even then, this early in Spring Training, I was impressed by his stuff. From what I'm hearing, he has a bunch of different pitches. I've heard seven pitches; I've heard six pitches. If he has five of them going a night, he's going to be a tough person to get a hit off of."

Matsuzaka seemed pleased by the way the session went.

"Generally, it is easier for me to pitch against a batter, compared to when I pitch in the bullpen," Matsuzaka said. "The pitches went pretty well today; the types of pitches I threw today were fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups."

Ellsbury, who is considered one of the top-position prospects in the organization, gave top billing, in particular, to the slider.

"I even knew it was coming and I missed by six inches," Ellsbury said. "Normally I don't miss that much."

And the fastball?

"If I was to put a guess, I'd say 92," Ellsbury said. "It's early in Spring Training. He's not going to air it out."

When he does, even more people will be watching.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.