Daisuke-mania has gripped baseball-crazed Boston. And yet for all the interest in a man the Red Sox spent more than $100 million to acquire, few understand what makes him truly unique: his workouts. In an age when big-league pitchers are babied, 26-year-old Matsuzaka is a throwback who believes the best way to strengthen his pitching arm is to throw. And throw. And throw some more.
Matsuzaka is a cyclone, as impervious to fatigue as a Kenyan marathoner. Nicknamed “the Monster” in his native country, he and his 300-pitch bull pen sessions in Japan are still legendary. He once threw 249 pitches in a 17-inning high school game and routinely topped 130 as a pro. He tossed 72 complete games between 1999 and 2006, 30 more than big-league leader Randy Johnson during the same span. If the typical MLB pitcher’s regimens were one-mile runs, Matsuzaka’s would be triathlons. He effortlessly throws 300 feet; most pitchers top out at 200. His first spring-training long-toss session nearly put Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell in a sling. The right-hander has been known to long-toss during pre-game introductions and throw in the bull pen after his starts, both of which are simply unheard of in the majors.
A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN
One day before Boston beat Toronto May 9, Matsuzaka threw 109 pitches in the bull pen. That’s the equivalent of a complete game—itself a rarity that typically requires a day off. The next day, he allowed one run in seven innings. Matsuzaka has said his balls-out regimen “is something I’ve always done.”
Indeed, while his rigorous throwing habits make him an anomaly in the U.S., they’re actually quite normal in Asia, particularly Japan, where exercising to exhaustion is considered a virtue. Matsuzaka was raised in a baseball culture that thinks nothing of following a 150-pitch start with three straight 150-pitch bull pen sessions prior to the next start. The Red Sox have convinced him to follow the U.S. custom of throwing just one bull pen session between starts, though he has taken the unorthodox step of doing so one day before a start instead of three days prior.
He has also begun icing his arm for the first time, a concession to pitching every five days in the U.S. as opposed to every six in Japan. “When he gets into a very specific, structured routine, it detracts from his personality,” Farrell notes. “The worst thing we can say to him is, ‘You have to do A, B, C, and D.’ Then he feels confined.”
NO GYM, NO PROBLEM
The Red Sox tried selling Matsuzaka on weight training, but beyond simple rotator cu≠ exercises, he’d rather run and throw 100 pitches in the bull pen than do squats or bench presses. The practice helps him maintain superb mechanics, which lessens the strain on his arm. Matsuzaka’s teammates haven’t rushed to mimic his workouts. But they do line up for the rice and sushi dishes, prepared by his personal chef, that are available in the postgame locker room. A handful have also started wearing
Tabi socks, which fit each toe like a glove and date back to the 16th century. Epicurean and sartorial influences aside, Red Sox manager Terry Francona doesn’t see the Daisuke Way becoming commonplace in the U.S. “We’re talking about one fabulous pitcher who’s not the norm for anywhere,” he says. “The hype surrounds him for a reason.”