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Tazawa thrown into fire as races heat up

Tazawa thrown into fire as races heat up

BOSTON -- Junichi Tazawa expected to make his first career start at Fenway Park this month. He just didn't think it would be for the Red Sox.

For the 23-year-old rookie, who was originally slated to take the hill for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday as part of the Futures of Fenway showcase, the events of the past five days haven't exactly been anticipated.

First came his promotion and Major League debut Friday at Yankee Stadium, where the Japanese hurler got his first taste of the big leagues by serving up a walk-off home run to Alex Rodriguez.

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On Tuesday night against Detroit, the right-hander will get his first crack at holding down the spot formerly occupied by John Smoltz in Boston's beleaguered starting rotation -- no small task for a youngster who never pitched in professional baseball prior to this season.

"We're excited to watch him pitch," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's kind of an interesting story. A year ago, he was in the [Japanese] industrial leagues, and a year later, he's pitching in Yankee Stadium."

The fact that Tazawa's first career start comes during the heat of a pennant race isn't a concern for his teammates or Francona, who has been impressed by the pitcher's poise at such a young age.

History making start
When Junichi Tazawa makes his first big league start vs. the Tigers on Tuesday, he will be the second-youngest Japanese pitcher to start a Major League game.
Player
Team
Age
First start
Masanori MurakamiGiants21 years, 101 days8/15/65 vs. Phillies
Junichi TazawaRed Sox23 years, 66 days8/11/09 vs. Tigers
Mac SuzukiMariners23 years, 94 days9/2/98 vs. Red Sox
Tomo OhkaRed Sox23 years, 123 days7/19/99 vs. Marlins

"The one thing he should do is throw strikes," Francona said. "He should also manage the running game very well. His stuff is good enough where if he throws strikes, he should be fine. He doesn't seem to be overly nervous or out of sorts with where he is. We're looking forward to it."

"Hopefully he goes out there and throws well," infielder Kevin Youkilis said. "Ideally, he'll have no nerves and catch Detroit off guard. We'll try to help him out as much as we can."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Junichi Tazawa (0-1, 10.80 ERA)
Tazawa will have a little more time for prepare for his second Major League appearance following his debut last Friday at Yankee Stadium. In that game, he was called on to pitch the 14th inning mere hours after being promoted from Pawtucket. After escaping a jam in his first inning of work, Tazawa surrendered a walk-off two-run home run to Rodriguez in the 15th. He now moves into his more natural role of starter, replacing Smoltz in the Boston rotation. In 20 Minor League starts this year, Tazawa went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA. He never pitched in professional baseball before this season, but registered dazzling numbers in Japan's industrial leagues.

DET: RHP Rick Porcello (10-7, 4.30 ERA)
A quicker tempo, renewed sinker and improved command of his secondary pitches has Porcello heating up just in time for the stretch run, something the Tigers couldn't have planned any better if they tried. The rookie fired 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball last Thursday against Baltimore, no-hitting the Orioles through four. Porcello will need his best sinker at Fenway Park, where he has never pitched. The 20-year-old right-hander yielded three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 frames against the Red Sox on June 2 at Comerica Park.

Tidbits
The Red Sox have won five straight against the Tigers dating back to May 8, 2008. ... Starters Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Brad Penny have posted a 2.08 ERA over Boston's past four games, combining for 19 strikeouts and a .228 opponents' batting average. ... With Monday's second-inning stolen base, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury surpassed his career high of 50 from last season. His 51 swipes is the third highest single-season total in franchise history.

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, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 13-4, 3.12) vs. Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 6-10, 5.23), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 1-2, 5.33) vs. Tigers (Justin Verlander, 12-6, 3.45), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 9-7, 3.67) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 9-7, 3.38), 8:05 p.m. ET

John Barone 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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