This offseason, the New York Mets re-signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to a minor-league deal with the intention of him competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. While Matsuzaka pitched fairly well during Spring Training and was considered by many to be the front-runner for the spot in the final days of Spring Training, the Mets decided to hand the job to Jenrry Mejia.
As a result, Matsuzaka was sent to triple-A Las Vegas to serve as insurance should any of the Mets pitchers get injured. While it wasn’t an injury that gave “Dice-K” his break, he got it fairly soon after the season started when John Lannan was designated for assignment.
The one caveat to this break was that Matsuzaka was going to have to pitch out of the bullpen, a role he had only served in once since coming over from Japan. Many worried that, with his spotty control and lengthy warm-up routine, Dice-K was ill-suited to pitch in high-leverage situations on multiple days.
However, two weeks into his tenure as a reliever, Matsuzaka has surprised everyone by becoming one of the Mets’ best relievers during that span. Although he’s only pitched a total of 7.2 innings out of the pen over six appearances, Matsuzaka has only allowed one run on two hits. He’s also struck out 11 in those 7.2 innings, good for a scintillating 12.91 K/9 ratio that leads the team.
Matsuzaka’s walk rate still remains a bit high and in order for him to be trusted with runners on base, he’ll need to keep that in check.
While his issue as a starter was a ballooning pitch count that frequently left him heading for the showers after five innings, Matsuzaka has been able to pitch with much more efficiency out of the pen. His assortment of pitches, which a hitter may catch on to after a few times through the order, has confounded those batters coming up to see him once later in the game.
Manager Terry Collins has gradually started to use Matsuzaka in more high-pressure situations, and Dice-K even earned his first major league save against the St. Louis Cardinals in a game that closer Kyle Farnsworth wasn’t available for. For a Mets bullpen desperately searching for more than a few reliable arms, Matsuzaka’s emergence has certainly been cause for optimism.
Whether or not he can maintain this pace as his inning total rises will be key. If he can, he’d end up being one of the biggest surprise stories of the 2014 season.