It’s all about the innings.
It’s also about the future, which is why the Mets signed veteran righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka on Thursday and slotted him into the rotation right away after injuries and the impending innings count put a dent in the staff.
The countdowns are already underway for young hurlers Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler, and with Jeremy Hefner and Jennry Mejia lost for the season due to injuries, the next day’s starters might have soon been announced as TBA. Carlos Torres was again drafted out of the bullpen for spot starts, and would have started tonight against the Tigers, but with the signing of Matsuzaka, the effective reliever (2-2, 3.00ERA/1.45 ERA in relief) was dispatched back to the pen.
Reliever Greg Burke was optioned back to Sin City to make room for the 32-year-old Matsuzaka, with the verbal promise of a return ticket when September call-ups are made.
Matsuzaka’s signing made sense from a cost-effective point of view. They signed him for just the remainder of the season, and if he pitches well over the course of the next five weeks or so, and helps ease the burden of the staff with innings at a premium in September, he could become a bargain.
Trouble is, the start to his Mets/National League career was anything but a bargain, giving up five runs – including two home runs, to the Tigers in just the first two innings. With starts like that, the Mets would be better served hanging a Help Wanted sign outside the gates of Citi Field for a spot starter.
Matsuzaka settled down for a bit after that, throwing three additional zeros, but those first two frames were pretty ugly. He threw 86 pitches in the five innings, 58 for strikes. Dice-K racked up four Ks, with one walk.
At his request, Matsuzaka was released from his contract with the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 20th. He had been relegated to their minor league system, languishing in Triple-A all season after migrating to the Indians when his manager from the only major league team he had known, Boston’s former leader, Terry Francona, returned to the skipper’s chair in Cleveland.
With the Columbus Clippers of the International League this season, Matsuzaka was just 5-8 in 19 starts (3.92 ERA), striking out 95 and walking 39 in 103.1 innings. In 13 of his IL starts, Matsuzaka lasted at least five innings, in seven of them at least seven innings, hence the attraction.
However, another line on his stat sheet displays his 1-7, 8.28 ERA record the last time he pitched in the majors, in 2012 with the BoSox, yielding 45 earned runs in 45.2 innings. For his career, all in Boston, Matsuzaka is 50-37, 4.52 in 117 games, all but one as starts. His best season came in 2008, when he notched a 18-3 mark, 2.90, in 29 starts.
The 6-foot, 185-pound native of Tokyo, Japan, becomes the 12th Japanese-born player to appear in at least one game with the Mets, the 11th pitcher to have hailed from the Far East, and the first since Ryota Igarishi in 2011.
With the Yankees’ Ichiro Suzuki making news earlier this week as only the third professional baseball player to reach 4,000 hits – combining his accomplishments on two continents, it is also interesting to note there have now been 59 players born in Japan to have played in the majors, although some of those are players you might not have guessed were born in Japan. That list includes the likes of Craig House, Dave Roberts, Jeff McCarry, and Keith McDonald.
Matsuzaka was assigned No. 16, made famous a generation ago in Mets history by Dwight Gooden, and if you want to go back a little further, Lee Mazzilli. Matsuzaka wore No. 18 with Boston, and why that’s significant is that No. 18 carries some sort of prestige in Japan for pitchers. They often request it. But right now, Mets third base coach Tim Teufel is occupying the number, first popularized in Met lore by Darryl Strawberry.
What? You’ve forgotten Al Luplow?
Igarishi wore 18 in 2011.
Matsuzaka is not the first Japanese-born Met hurler to wear 16. Hideo Nomo wore it in New York in 1998, interestingly the first Met to wear it since Gooden last wore it in 1994.
Getting back to the original point, Matsuzaka is here to eat innings. The Mets desperately want to protect both Harvey and Wheeler from throwing too many innings beyond their 2012 results, which recent history suggests, protects young arms. There still are no guarantees (see Stephen Strasburg), but as long as the theory is believed, innings limits will take precedent.
Going into the weekend, Wheeler was at 138.1 combined innings majors and minors for the season. The Mets would like to see him top of at around 170-175. In 2012, he threw 149 innings for two minor league affiliates – Binghamton and Buffalo.
Harvey is at 171.2 innings. Last year he threw a combined 169.1 innings. His target is about 210-215.
With the Mets not exactly in the pennant race, at some point there going to shut down both dynamic arms. And they’re going to need new arms to show up on the mound every day.
There appears to be a general reluctance to call up other promising prospects to do so, one due to their own innings limits, and two, the eyes that watch them say they’re just not ready.
Jason deGrom is an arm the scouts have been raving about lately (4-2, 3.93 in Las Vegas) but he’s not even on the 40, so they would have to lose someone to call him up. Don’t be surprised if another major league castoff from some distant shore also washes up on a Mets beach before this campaign is over.
Saturday’s matchup of Matt Harvey against Detroit’s Matt Scherzer represents the first time in baseball’s history the two starting pitchers from that year’s All-Star game opposed each other in a regular season game. Of course, this rare occurrence is primarily a byproduct of the 17-season history of interleague play. Credit the Elias Sports Bureau with the research which confirmed the rarity.
Also of note : Wednesday’s ninth inning loss to the Braves represented the 22nd time the Mets had lost this season in the game’s last at-bat. In all of 2012, they lost just 16 games in this manner.