Royals eager to face Matsuzaka
Kansas City excited to get first crack at Japanese sensation
KANSAS CITY -- Mark Grudzielanek has played in 1,571 games in his Major League career. He has seen Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Johan Santana and Curt Schilling.On Thursday afternoon, Grudzielanek will face Daisuke Matsuzaka -- the latest Japanese import sensation to the Majors. Matsuzaka will be making his much-anticipated American debut against the Royals. Is Grudzielanek expecting some mystery pitch -- a so-called "gyro ball" -- that will have him stepping out of the box and muttering to himself, "What was that?" "It may have a little bit different action on it," Grudzielanek said. "It could be a little bit better than others, but I don't know how he could throw something that we haven't seen before. It's not like you're inventing the wheel." One National League scout who saw "Dice-K" in Spring Training said the "gyro" is nothing more than the circle change that Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell was throwing back in the 1930s with the New York Giants. "There are a lot of guys who try to manipulate certain arm speeds and certain arm motions and wrist action and try to create some kind of movement on the ball," Grudzielanek said. "I think that is the biggest key for any pitcher, to try to have movement on the ball, and maybe he does that in a different way that we haven't seen much of. We'll see." Grudzielanek said it's definitely to Matsuzaka's advantage that the Royals have never seen him, and watching him on tape is not the same as seeing the pitches live. "I definitely feel more comfortable with guys I've seen before, absolutely," Grudzielanek said. Tony Pena, unlike Grudzielanek, has played in only 41 Major League games, but he, too, is not expecting some secret pitch to come out of Dice-K's right hand. "He has some good stuff, but nothing that I haven't seen before," Pena said. "I guess it's just a matter of how you think about things. If you go out there and make a big deal out of it, you're probably in trouble. I'll just go out there and see what happens. I can't wait to get the opportunity to hit against him." Ryan Shealy does not expect Matsuzaka to unveil a pitch that will be foreign to his eyes. "We've got a ton of good pitchers over here, so it's not like he's going to be throwing stuff that we've never seen before," Shealy said. "I watched him throw on ESPN. It looks like he's got good command. It looks like he throws a lot of strikes with offspeed stuff. But we are the first team to get to face him, so it is exciting."
And the first team to beat him?
"That's what we're planning on," Shealy replied.Rarely has a pitcher arrived with the hype of Matsuzaka, who had a 108-60 record with a 2.95 ERA in eight seasons in Japan. He was on the Sports Illustrated cover for its Baseball Preview edition. There have also been nearly 250 media requests for the game on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, which will be televised back to Japan. "I guess they are trying to make it into a big story, but for me it's another pitcher, pretty much," outfielder Mark Teahen said. Teahen, too, is not anticipating Matsuzaka showing him pitches never thrown before in a Major League game. "I've heard about a 'gyro ball,' but you don't know anything until you've seen it," Teahen said. "It's his first start. Maybe we hit around or maybe he pitches well against us, but that's all it is, his first start. You can't judge him off one start. Anytime you face a guy more often, you get to know his tendencies. But I guess at the same time, he gets to know you, too. It's a give-and-take." The scouting reports state Dice-K has an assortment of pitches and he is not afraid to throw any of them in any count. "Sometimes when someone has that many pitches, sometimes it can be good because as a hitter you're going to keep it simple and just try to see the ball," Royals catcher John Buck said. No matter what the outcome, Royals manager Buddy Bell sees the Matsuzaka invasion as a good step for the sport in the United States. "I know it's a big issue," Bell said. "I know there's a lot of talk about the players coming over from the Pacific Rim and how well they've done. It always seems like something that triggers everybody's curiosity." This year it is Matsuzaka, and the Royals just happen to get the first crack at him.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.