ST. PETERSBURG -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's comeback from Tommy John surgery continues to be an exercise in complete frustration. For the fourth time in six starts, Matsuzaka failed to make it out of the fourth inning.
The righty was once again shelled as the Red Sox suffered a 13-3 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
Matsuzaka was knocked out after giving up four straight hits to open the fourth. Over three-plus innings, he gave up nine hits and five runs, walking one and striking out two. This, against a Tampa Bay team that had been anemic at the plate in recent days.
In 10 starts, Matsuzaka is 1-6 with a 7.68 ERA.
Matsuzaka is a free agent after this season, and he is highly unlikely to draw interest from the Red Sox. Is it productive for either the pitcher or the team for him to keep going out there over these last couple weeks of the season?
"It's a hard question to answer," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Jeff Cutler. "I still haven't really taken in what happened today, so it's a hard question to answer."
Manager Bobby Valentine was also non-committal.
"We'll see what he's feeling like tomorrow," Valentine said. "Next time we have an off-day, he'll have a little more rest. Maybe that's what's needed this time of year."
This latest unraveling was a little surprising in that Matsuzaka did look a little better last time out, giving up three hits and four runs over 5 1/3 innings during a no-decision in Toronto.
"After my last outing, I was headed in the right direction and wanted to keep that momentum going," said Matsuzaka. "It didn't end up that way. It's been really hard to keep the positive going so far, and as always, I'm really disappointed in myself for putting our team in a hole."
The game completely unraveled for the Red Sox in the sixth inning, when Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard combined to give up seven runs.
After winning four of the first five on this road trip, the Sox took a little step back in this one.
Boston pitchers walked 10 batters, making it an ugly defeat.
"We threw too many pitches tonight. God, we must have thrown 200-plus pitches tonight, no doubt about that," said Valentine. "Tough to look at. Walks are the killer bee."
The Red Sox broke out first, as Pedro Ciriaco started the game off with a single, stole second and promptly scored on a bloop single to left by Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Rays rallied back in the second when they opened with three straight singles against Matsuzaka. Dice-K then walked Matt Joyce to force in a run. That was the only run of the inning, as Matsuzaka minimized the damage by striking out Carlos Pena and getting Jose Molina on a 5-3 double-play ball.
Even at that point, catcher Ryan Lavarnway was thrilled with where Matsuzaka was at.
"They got hits, but they were singles," said Lavarnway. "They were jam shots. Two-strike pitch caught just too much of the plate. Got a bloop hit that maybe gets caught on another day. A ground-ball single that could have been hit at a guy."
Jose Iglesias jump-started a Boston rally in the third with a leadoff walk. Ciriaco followed with a single. Up stepped Ellsbury, who came through with an RBI single up the middle. Dustin Pedroia's fielder's-choice grounder gave the Sox a 3-1 lead.
But it wasn't nearly enough. Matsuzaka gave one of the runs back in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by Ben Zobrist.
Things got worse in the fourth. Jeff Keppinger led off with a homer. Pena drilled a two-run homer. Molina hit a double off the top of the wall, and that was all for Dice-K. Aceves, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 12, got out of the inning with no further damage.
"I was struggling with my command from the first inning and I kept on throwing it where they wanted the ball, and they never missed those pitches and it really hurt me today," said Matsuzaka.
In the sixth, the Rays delivered the Red Sox a sound knockout punch. Aceves took an awkward path at fielding a bunt and stumbled, before making an off-balanced throw to first for an error that put runners at second and third with nobody out. Desmond Jennings hit a rocket to center for a two-run triple. Jennings also scored on the play, as Ciriaco couldn't handle the throw from Iglesias.
"Look at our overall body of work against this fellow, it has not been good," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, "and to be able to get some runs against him was good."
Bard's struggles continued as he came on and gave up three walks, a single and a sacrifice fly.
Since his recall from Triple-A Pawtucket, Bard has pitched in five games, giving up eight hits, nine runs, three homers and five walks over 3 1/3 innings. Opponents have hit .471 against him in that span. He's given up at least a run all five times.
"He says he really wants to pitch," Valentine said. "We're really trying to get him where he could have some kind of good feeling during this season at the end. It's tough."
Bard had plenty of pitchers to commiserate with after this one.
"Tough night -- tough night for everybody," said Lavarnway.