By Jim Allen
Daisuke Matsuzaka, who spent nearly all of his time with the SoftBank Hawks the past three seasons on their farm team nursing one injury or another, was deactivated by the Chunichi Dragons after suffering from back spasms prior to Sunday’s game against his old club, the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions. His back issue flared up while he was in the bullpen.
Matsuzaka has been a great story this year because he’s been able to get a lot of big outs despite having control issues and only one reliable pitch, his cut fastball. According to Deltagraphs Matsuzaka is throwing the cutter 41 percent of the time, while his average fastball velocity has been 139.1 kph (86.4 mph).
The cutter is a great pitch in Japan because most pitchers don’t throw it, and he is using it to stay away from barrels and mixing it with a slider that has been very tight on occasion and an occasional change, which has been dynamite.
NPB all-star voting being what he is, he’s leading in the voting for Central League starting pitchers because everyone loves nostalgia and he’s actually been useful when no one expected him to be.
He currently has a 3-3 record, which sounds ominous, since that’s how he finished his last two big league seasons with the Mets.
After three seasons with SoftBank, he was released. But there seems to be more to the story than that. Word is the Hawks wanted him to sign a different contract for much less money. Instead, he walked, but soon found that when players walk away from their teams like that, few other clubs show any interest in signing them.
This happened with an aging Norihiro Nakamura, when he left the Orix Buffaloes after the 2006 season in a contract dispute. Like Matsuzaka, Nakamura asked every club for a tryout, but was turned down by every team except the Chunichi Dragons. Nakamura, by the way, was the 2007 Japan Series MVP and continued playing for another six years — eight years after no one except Chunichi was interested out of deference to the way he left Orix.