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COMMENTARY

Matsuzaka's personality has been guarded so far

August 09, 2007|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Reaching Daisuke Matsuzaka can be difficult, even when he is reached.

The Boston Red Sox's $103-million investment is heavily guarded, in part by a training regimen that has him making only brief stops at his locker and in part by a team put in place by agent Scott Boras and the club.

Reporters from New England say the requests for one-on-one interviews are routinely turned down.

The swarm of Japanese journalists who track the 26-year-old's every move is asked to send only a few representatives to ask him questions on behalf of the group.

Matsuzaka didn't come from Japan to socialize. He came, he said, to be the best pitcher in the world.

"Who is No. 1 or where that place is, is something I still haven't figured out," Matsuzaka said.

To help him achieve that, Boras said, he had Matsuzaka live with him for five weeks over the winter and had him work out at his training facility in Aliso Viejo. Boras also made sure that when the season started, Matsuzaka would be in as sterile an environment as possible.

As per the terms of his contract, the Red Sox hired Team Matsuzaka's interpreter of choice, Masa Hoshino, and trainer Takanori Maeda, who worked with Matsuzaka over the eight seasons he spent with the Seibu Lions of the Japanese league.

Boras made it no secret that part of Hoshino's role is to restrict access to Matsuzaka.

"It gives [Matsuzaka] the freedom to move in and out," Boras said, referring to how Matsuzaka is often working out when the clubhouse is open to the media.

The Red Sox implemented a blockade of their own in Sachiyo Sekiguchi, a bilingual media relations representative.

Sekiguchi was standing next to Matsuzaka on Tuesday, recorder in hand, in what was supposed to be a one-on-one interview in the Red Sox clubhouse in Angel Stadium.

At one point, Matsuzaka was asked about his late grandfather, from whom it is said he inherited his arm. There is a well-known story in Japan about how Matsuzaka's grandfather threw a hand grenade 63 meters to set a record in a military athletic competition.

Asked if his grandfather fought in World War II, Matsuzaka replied, "Yes. I haven't heard the specifics, but, yes."

Did he fight against American troops?

"That's what I would think," he said, looking amused.

Sekiguchi quickly cut in, "He hasn't been told specifically, so he doesn't know."

There was an uncomfortable silence, which Matsuzaka broke by smiling and saying, "Maybe they were Russian."

Matsuzaka was polite and smiled often during the five-plus minute interview.

Despite his 13-8 record and 3.70 earned-run average, he said he isn't satisfied with how he has pitched.

"If you're satisfied, you start to wonder if you've hit your limit," he said. "I'm looking at what I'm doing wrong and I'm trying to improve those points."

Among the points is getting used to the American baseball, which is more slippery and has bigger seams than the ball used in Japan.

"It's getting warmer and the ball isn't slipping as much," he said. "It's still not 100%, but it's not troubling any more."

He says he has also made slight alterations to the way he sleeps.

Matsuzaka vomited between innings in a start in Texas in late May, something he said that might have been caused by his preference of sleeping on the floor to protect his back.

"I've always been worried about the dust in hotels. That, and a drop in my strength, could've combined to cause that," Matsuzaka said. "I've thought of a strategy to combat that, but, yes, I'm still sleeping on the floor."

Matsuzaka said he's communicating better with his teammates.

"I'm gradually getting a better understanding of what my teammates are saying," he said.

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek agreed that communication hasn't been an issue, though any discussions they have can't be too detailed without an interpreter present.

Said Manager Terry Francona: "He's a very, very intelligent young man. [The language barrier] doesn't get in the way of his pitching."

But Matsuzaka admitted that his Spanish is probably better than his English.

"Spanish is easier," he said, "at least to pronounce."

--

T.J. Simers is on vacation.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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