Daisuke Matsuzaka has been in the middle of a riddle before. Remember the gyroball? In 2007, Matsuzaka apparently (possibly) was the first major leaguer to throw that mystery pitch, which was either a revolution in physics or merely an urban legend born in a Japanese lab and destined to be the Bigfoot of baseball.
Now Matsuzaka, at 33, is part of another conundrum: Where to be fit into the Mets’ disorderly bullpen structure. Is he a long-reliever? Late-inning setup man? Closer?
In Wednesday night’s 3-2 squeaker over the St. Louis Cardinals, he lent instant seventh-inning help after Jonathan Niese, ahead 3-1, yielded a two-out double to Matt Carpenter. Matsuzaka promptly struck out Mark Ellis and immediately made way for Carlos Torres.
“Torres is our eighth-inning guy,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of not sticking with Matsuzaka longer. “So, now, [Thursday] we’ve got both of them” available, especially with closer Kyle Farnsworth less likely to throw after a shaky 19-pitch ninth inning.
“I told him,” Collins said of Matsuzaka, ” ‘One of these days, there’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to jerk a pitcher out in the third inning, or someone can’t get loose, and you’re going to have to be the guy.
“And you never know. He may end up the closer.”
A starting pitcher throughout his first seven big-league seasons — except for a single 2011 relief appearance — Matsuzaka was summoned from the Mets’ Las Vegas affiliate this month as a sort of Whac-A-Mole for whatever dangers arose with the pitching staff.
Collins was burning through closers — the disabled Bobby Parnell, inconsistent Jose Valverde, new-to-the-job Farnsworth. And when starters Bartolo Colon (back spasms) and Jenrry Mejia (blister) were iffy last weekend, Matsuzaka was told to be prepared to start.
“We’ve got to have a backup plan,” Collins said, “and right now, Dice-K is the best option. We’re wrestling with trying to keep him ready to start a game, yet use him as his versatility dictates, in a shorter role.”
Matsuzaka made consecutive relief appearances last weekend and assured he was “mentally prepared . . . This is my role for the time being. So I need to go out and pitch well.”
And, on Tuesday, he insisted he was ready to go again, reminding Collins he “only threw 34 pitches” in three innings of work Sunday.
“He wants to pitch,” Collins said. “He had an absolutely tremendous spring. He should have made the club; we just had some issues that kept him off the team. But when he came back up, he just said, ‘I’ll be ready every day.’ And he has been.”