Dice-K goes for sweep vs. Rays

Dice-K goes for sweep vs. Rays

There's a lot of things going well lately for the Red Sox, victorious in eight of their past 10 games and owners of the best record in baseball. And when Boston takes the field Sunday, it'll aim for its fourth straight win and a series sweep over the Devil Rays, who haven't topped the Red Sox since Sept. 27, 2006.

To give them their best shot at doing so, they'll send rookie phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka to the hill. Dice-K struggled for three straight starts before his most recent outing, compiling a 1-2 record and 7.31 ERA over the three poor starts. Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell pointed to a short downturn in arm strength as reason for the off performances and said a bit of rest cured most of the symptoms.

"I think just the other night, [Matsuzaka] had much, much better fastball command," Farrell said. "He was much improved a few nights ago than he'd been during his prior few starts."

Despite the minor hitch, the 26-year-old remains first in wins among Major League rookies. Though adjusting to American professional baseball often takes a bit of time, Farrell isn't, and wasn't, surprised the Japanese righty hasn't faltered.

"The success that he had [in Japan], combined with the talents that he possesses, makes him a pretty special individual," Farrell said. "What we've come to find over the first half of the season is an undeniable, competitive spirit, a tremendous teammate and someone who really cares.

"I think the success he's had is just a byproduct of all of those elements."

The Rays will give lefty Scott Kazmir the ball to oppose Matsuzaka. At 23, Kazmir's already got a fairly impressive portfolio as well. The southpaw fireballer has battled high pitch counts throughout this season as a result of tweaks to his delivery, but seems on the upswing of the setback.

The two starters have faced off once this season, Dice-K emerging with a win after he held the Rays scoreless through eight innings in the 4-1 victory.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (12-7, 3.79 ERA)
Last time out, Dice-K snapped a three-start slump by firing seven scoreless innings against the Indians and limiting Cleveland to four hits while fanning five. So far, he's held left-handed opponents to .208 hitting in his 21-game career.

TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (7-7, 4.02 ERA)
Is on a hot streak over his past two games in which he's defeated Cy Young winners Roger Clemens (Yankees) and Bartolo Colon (Angels) in conseutive outings. During that 13-inning span, he's allowed just one earned run, seven hits and five walks, while fanning 13.

Player to watch
Mike Lowell is hitting .308 (4-for-13) in his career against Kazmir, with a home run and two RBIs.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680, WROL (Español)

Up next
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 13-4, 3.27) vs. Orioles (Erik Bedard, 10-4, 3.05), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Kason Gabbard, 4-0, 3.73) vs. Orioles (Steve Trachsel, 5-7, 5.26), 7:05 p.m. ET

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