Chacin outduels Matsuzaka
Jays take advantage of Dice-K's fourth-inning wildness
TORONTO -- Gustavo Chacin just smiles and shrugs his shoulders. The soft-spoken Blue Jays starter is at a loss for words when it comes to his dominance against the Red Sox.
"I don't know," Chacin said with a grin. "I just try to do my job no matter what team I face."
Chacin shut down Boston again Tuesday night -- this time stealing the spotlight from Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who made his much-anticipated debut on Canadian soil. Toronto's left-hander was immune to the hype and held Boston in check, helping the Blue Jays overcome an impressive outing by Matsuzaka en route to a 2-1 victory at Rogers Centre.
The win improved Chacin's career record against the Red Sox to 6-0 with a 3.83 ERA. Those six wins represent the most victories by any active pitcher without a loss versus Boston. Four of Chacin's nine wins during his injury-shortened 2006 campaign came against the Red Sox as well.
"He's always pitched good against the Red Sox," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I don't know why. It's hard to figure."
Catcher Gregg Zaun at least has a theory about why Chacin has experienced early success this season for the Jays (8-5). Based on Chacin's history, opposing teams have exercised a patient approach at the plate when facing the Venezuelan southpaw, waiting to see if the pitcher is on or off with his command.
This season, though, Zaun said Chacin (2-0) has dedicated himself to pitching more to contact -- throwing more strikes early in counts to try to force hitters to swing. The result has been fewer walks, quicker outs and a lower pitch count -- three areas in which Chacin has struggled in the past.
"I've noticed that a lot of teams are really not that aggressive early in counts against him," Zaun said. "He's thrown strike one all year and that's been the biggest thing for him. It allows him to go to work on guys with the good stuff and use the corners and pitch out of the zone when he has to later in the count."
That approach was visible again against the Red Sox, who were only able to muster one run on six hits against Chacin. His lone miscue came in the third inning, when Boston's Wily Mo Pena sent a 3-2 pitch bouncing off the top of Windows restaurant for a solo home run, giving the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead.
That was it, though. Chacin used 97 pitches to work through 6 2/3 innings, recording 11 fly-ball outs, six via ground ball and three with strikeouts. Chacin didn't have any walks, and he has only issued one free pass in his three starts this season.
"He's pitching to contact, instead of trying to be too fine, and letting our defense go to work," first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "Those are the kinds of things he needs to do. He just needs to pound the strike zone and trust his stuff."
Chacin hasn't had a problem doing that against Boston.
"Gus is a guy who rises to the occasion," teammate Vernon Wells said. "Gus was 5-0 coming into this game against Boston. That's impressive in its own right. He's a guy that obviously likes to pitch on the big stage. What better time to do it than against the Red Sox?"
What better night than to do it against the Red Sox, too? Matsuzaka (1-2) turned in a stellar outing against Toronto, which struck out 10 times in six innings against the Japanese right-hander. In fact, Matsuzaka became the first Major League rookie to record at least 10 whiffs in two of his first three starts since Dodgers lefty Fernando Valenzuela accomplished the feat in 1981.
Fortunately for the Jays, Matsuzaka struggled to find the strike zone in the fourth inning. After Wells reached first on an infield single, Matsuzaka walked Frank Thomas and then yielded an RBI single to Overbay. Aaron Hill followed by drawing a walk to load the bases, and Zaun was issued another free pass that sent Thomas jogging home for the go-ahead run.
"He got kind of wild in that inning," Overbay said. "You look back and that's how you get those good pitchers is that one inning. You're not going to score a lot of runs on him, so when you get that one inning, you have to take advantage."
After the walk to Zaun, Matsuzaka went on to retire the final eight batters he faced, but the damage had already been done. A one-run lead was enough for right-hander Jason Frasor to work with in his first outing as Toronto's closer -- a job he inherited when All-Star B.J. Ryan landed on the 15-day disabled list with a left elbow injury.
Frasor needed two pitches to induce a weak groundout off the bat of Boston slugger David Ortiz to end the eighth. Then in the ninth, the pitcher set the Red Sox down in order to pick up his first save of the season, sealing the victory for Chacin.
That's been a familiar ending for the Red Sox.
"[Chacin's] been tough on us in the past," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "We have to figure out a way to figure him out because we're going to face him a bunch."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.