Matsuzaka, 32, went 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA over 19 starts this season for Cleveland's Triple-A Columbus affiliate, before the Indians released him earlier this week. Though Matsuzaka last pitched Monday, throwing 85 pitches for Columbus, the Mets are reportedly planning to pitch both him and regularly scheduled starter Carlos Torres on Friday.
Arriving in the United States amidst significant fanfare in 2007 following a successful career in Japan's Pacific League, Matsuzaka proceeded to go 50-37 with a 4.52 ERA over the next six seasons for the Red Sox. His best year came in 2008, when he finished 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, placing fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting.
But Matsuzaka struggled with injuries toward the end of his Red Sox tenure, ultimately signing a Minor League deal with the Indians last winter. Tribe manager Terry Francona, who also oversaw Matsuzaka in Boston, said there was simply no room for him in Cleveland despite improving Minor League numbers: a 3.23 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 11 walks over his final 53 innings at Columbus.
"Giving him a chance to go somewhere is maybe good for him," Francona said this week.
"It was more just a function of opportunity," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said of Matsuzaka's release. "We didn't have an immediate Major League opportunity for Daisuke. He'd been throwing well in Triple-A and thought that he may have a better opportunity elsewhere. So he asked for his release, and we granted it."
With the Mets, Matsuzaka could ultimately slip into the rotation spot currently occupied by Torres, who moved out of the bullpen after Jenrry Mejia and Jeremy Hefner both suffered season-ending injuries. The Mets are trying to limit the innings of young pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, both of whom are nearing their maximums for the season.
That would not normally be an issue this time of year, with Sept. 1 and its promise of expanded rosters less than two weeks away. But many of the organization's higher-level Minor League pitchers -- including right-handers Rafael Montero, ranked by MLB.com as the club's No. 3 prospect, and Jacob deGrom (No. 17) -- are nearing innings limits even stricter than those of Harvey and Wheeler.
The Mets had been reluctant to move Torres from the bullpen, where he has pitched well this season, back to the rotation. So signing Matsuzaka also restores a measure of balance to their pitching staff.