Time off works wonders for Dice-K

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When
celebrities find themselves at the center of controversy, the standard move is
to take time off.

 

Some
check in to rehab. Some spend time with family. Some escape to a tropical
island, sit back and listen to self-improvement audio books.

 

Even
if you’re not one of those people who follows celebrity gossip, chances are you
can still name a few recent examples (I’ll refrain to avoid a controversy of my
own).

 

Whatever
the method, the fundamental goals are the same; to repair public image by
creating the impression of humility and — most of all — set the stage for
a future comeback.

 

The
Red Sox hope time off works the same magic for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who made his long-awaited return to the mound
Tuesday after taking an 87-day sabbatical to recover from arm fatigue.  

 

More
on Tuesday’s outing later.

 

First,
the full scope of the damage Dice-K incurred this season.

 

It
all went down downhill after the World Baseball Classic, for which he took home
Most Valuable Player.

 

The
added workload disrupted his Spring Training routine and may have caused the ineffectiveness
and two stints on the disabled list that followed.

 

Fast
forward several weeks into the season, and the guy who combined for 30 wins
over his first two big league seasons was no longer recognizable.  On June 19, he was booed off the field after
surrendering six earned runs on eight hits over four innings against the Braves.
 That appearance was his last, leaving
his fantasy owners scratching their heads wondering how Dice-K — one of the game’s
top starters — had unraveled and gone 1-5 with a 8.23 ERA.

 

Thinking
long term, the Red Sox chose to sacrifice most of his 2009 season, both to
avoid any additional injuries and to reprise his rookie form.  

 

The
decision gave Matsuzaka countless hours in near-solitude at the club’s facility
in Fort Myers, Fla. There, he not only had time to collect his thoughts, air a
few grievances and build back the confidence that had been shattered by
American League hitters, but he also underwent a physical makeover that vastly
improved his conditioning.

 

Four
rehab starts for Triple-A Pawtucket yielded positive results, a 2.25 ERA and a
17/6 K/BB ratio.

 

All
the extra time off seemed to pay off Tuesday, as Dice-K held a scrappy Angels
lineup hitless over his first four frames. Matsuzaka would eventually let up
six hits over six scoreless innings, outdueling Halos ace John Lackey in the
process.  

 

It’s
too soon to say whether Dice-K is the ace of yesteryear, but things are heading
in the right direction.

 

At
the very least, aspiring fantasy champs can feel confident in Dice-K
contributing down the stretch, instead of occupying a celebrity spot on your
bench.

 

Hall
of Fame shortstop-turned-third baseman Cal Ripken is revered for his
consecutive games played streak.

 

Pitchers,
on the other hand, could learn from Matsuzaka, who is back atop the Red Sox
rotation after taking the slow road back in recovery.

 

 

–Alex Cushing,
MLB.com

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