GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The last time a team brought Daisuke Matsuzaka into camp, it paid more than $100 million to get him.
On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians brought him into camp to compete for the back end of their rotation with a deal that will make him just $1.5 million this season. He can earn an additional $2.5 million in performance bonuses.
A little different this time around.
“I just want him to be Daisuke,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
The Japanese right-hander and Francona have a history together, of course, while the latter was manager in Boston and Matsuzaka was a starter for the Red Sox. The two officially reunited on Wednesday here, and Francona said Matsuzaka threw 35 pitches. He described his delivery as “crisp” and it reminded him of how he looked “when he was healthy.”
In 2007, Matsuzaka, 32, posted a 15-12 record with a 4.40 ERA as the Red Sox raced to a World Series title. He followed that with an 18-3 mark and a 2.90 ERA the next season.
During that time, it appeared as though Boston received a strong return on its investment of $51 million just to secure his rights, and then another $52 million on a six-year deal to get him to the mound. But since 2008, Matsuzaka has never won more than nine games in a season. And he has been limited to just 18 starts the past two years because of elbow issues. Matsuzaka underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in 2011.
He returned to the Red Sox last June and went 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA over 11 starts, closing with an 0-4 record and a 14.36 ERA in his final five outings.
Francona said he expects better results this season from Matsuzaka, and perhaps a fresh start in Cleveland will help both of them.
“In the second year after surgery,” Francona said, “you see the guy you want.”
Matsuzaka said, through an interpreter, that he was promised nothing with the Indians and that he wants to come into camp as a challenger. He said he chose Cleveland over two other teams because he wanted to compete in the American League and pitch against Boston. He did not expect to return to the Red Sox.
He added that Francona has told him to keep things light at first — focus on good mechanics and re-learn how to pitch without pain.
The Cleveland rotation has room for him. Matsuzaka is believed to be competing with Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, David Huff and Scott Kazmir for two spots.
“He knows how to win,” Francona said of Matsuzaka. “He’s been a high-profile big winner.”