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Matsuzaka gets first taste of the Tigers

Matsuzaka gets first taste of the Tigers

Daisuke Matsuzaka has had his share of daunting assignments -- consecutive starts against the Yankees, near-immediate repeat appearances against Seattle and Toronto -- and the load won't get any easier on Monday at Fenway.

This time the American League champs come to town. The Detroit Tigers have sprinted to the top of the AL Central, bringing one of the league's best run-producing offenses along for the ride.

This, with below-average contributions from a prized offseason acquisition, former Yankee Gary Sheffield. The Tigers' new designated hitter has an OPS of .799 in the early going of 2007, a dropoff not just from his career mark of .921 but from his 15-year low of .806 last season.

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Sheffield has picked it up in May, slugging four home runs while batting .342. Meanwhile, one of the Majors' best double-play combinations, Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen, as well as outfielders Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson, have been pulling their weight.

The Tigers have scored 194 runs this season, more than any team in baseball not named the Yankees or Red Sox.

"It's as good as any ballclub that's in the American League right now," said Red Sox pitcher Kyle Snyder.

The Tigers have roared to the top of a ferocious division that includes 2006 AL Central champion Minnesota and 2007 contender Cleveland. Snyder, himself a veteran of the Central -- he was drafted by Kansas City and pitched there from 2003 until he was acquired by Boston last season -- has observed from close range Detroit's recent transformation.

"I've seen that team go from being a 119-loss ballclub to really as good as any team or as talented as any team in the American League," he said, adding that it's "definitely a different feeling" when they come to town now, as opposed to even three years ago.

For Matsuzaka, who has started seven times against four teams, it should certainly be a new kind of experience.

Pitching matchup
DET: LHP Nate Robertson (3-2, 3.43 ERA)
The Mariners reached Robertson for six earned runs in his last start, his worst of the season. The begoggled lefty, a fifth-round draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 1999, has a 6.75 ERA against the Red Sox in 29 1/3 career innings and an 8.49 ERA at Fenway Park.

BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-2, 4.80 ERA)
Matsuzaka, who has pitched far better on the road, will be looking for his first signature gem at Fenway Park. In his best home start, on April 11, he allowed three earned runs in seven innings, but Mariners phenom Felix Hernandez stole the show with a one-hitter. Since then, Matsuzaka has been touched for 13 runs in 12 innings at Fenway.

Player to watch
Former Indian and current Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp has a lengthy history with Robertson, against whom he has two home runs and seven hits in just 25 at-bats.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO-680 AM, Spanish Baseball Network

Up next
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 4-3, 1.79) vs. Tigers (Justin Verlander, 3-1, 2.83), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 1-4, 6.60) vs. Tigers (Mike Maroth, 3-0, 4.69), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Curt Schilling, 4-1, 3.63) vs. Tigers (Chad Durbin, 3-1, 5.08), 7:05 p.m. ET

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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