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Pirates impressed by Matsuzaka

Pirates impressed by Boston starter Matsuzaka

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- There was no question Wednesday, Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka was on his mark.

The 26-year-old Japanese righty permitted the Pirates just one hit in his 5 2/3 innings, ringing up seven strikeouts along the way. He retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced, the lone exception being a one-out walk issued to Nate McLouth in the fifth inning.

Not a bad investment for Boston, even though the $103.1 million price tag was anything but a bargain.

"He obviously has several pitches he can throw over the plate, and doesn't give me any sort of impression whatsoever that he's afraid of any type of count," Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said.

First baseman Adam LaRoche was the only Pirate to earn a hit off of Matsuzaka, ironic because LaRoche had spent the morning at Minor League camp putting in extra at-bats because of his recent struggles at the plate. LaRoche lined a changeup to right field allowing the first Pittsburgh run to score. Leadoff man Chris Duffy had been hit by a pitch to start the game.

Even after succeeding against the dominant pitcher, LaRoche (who finished 1-for-2) was quick to give the Red Sox righty credit.

"I was impressed," LaRoche said. "He had pretty good command with all his pitches. Obviously he had a very good changeup, a slider. He must have a dozen pitches. I was asking [Boston catcher Jason] Varitek how many, and he said, 'I don't know, but I have to use both hands to give signs.'"

The loss represented the lowest hits total (four) of the season for the Pirates. It was also one of just five times this spring that Pittsburgh, which currently leads the Grapefruit League with a .302 team batting average, was held to fewer than 10 hits.

"I was happy that I was able to pitch well despite struggling a little bit," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "I was keeping track of which way the wind was blowing, but it didn't bother me too much."

It's difficult to imagine what the result would've been had the wind not been gusting. LaRoche counted off four different pitches as he reflected on his final at-bat, a strikeout: cutter, slider, fastball and change-up.

"He's not the least bit shy about throwing any pitch in any given count, which suggests how much confidence that he has in throwing all of his pitches for strikes," Tracy said. "If you have the capability to do that, you're going to keep hitters off balance for a very long time."

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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