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Dice-K Sharp In His 1st BP For Red Sox

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AP
Photographers jammed the left-field line from home plate to third base. Daisuke Matsuzaka threw the first pitch of his first batting practice. Then he threw 43 more _ fastballs, curves, sliders and changeups. When the Japanese star was done, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell gave him a positive review.

"He's as advertised," Farrell said. "He really is."

Matsuzaka threw batting practice for the first time with Boston on Saturday and was very sharp. Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling took the mound before him but they might as well have been anonymous rookies. Everyone was waiting for the Matsuzaka show.

Manager Terry Francona has seen as much scrutiny of a batting practice session, if not more, when he managed a star from another sport at Birmingham in the Chicago White Sox system in 1994.

"Remember, I had Michael Jordan," Francona said, "and this guy can't dunk."

That's of no concern to the Red Sox, who love Matsuzaka's ability to throw six different pitches effectively with great control and movement.

The four minor leaguers who stepped in against him attested to that even though Matsuzaka or catcher Jason Varitek told them what pitch was coming.

"The guy's got good stuff. It's not a myth. It's not a tall tale," said Bobby Scales, who was the first batter to hit against him and let the first pitch _ a bit high _ go by. "The changeup was really good. It seems like it never gets to you and it just kind of floats."

"It was impressive," said Kevin Cash, next into the batter's box. "All his breaking balls he throws for strikes and very sharp."

Matsuzaka already had thrown three bullpen sessions, firing 103 pitches to Varitek in the last one, an amazing number early in spring training.

On Saturday, he took the next step to what the Red Sox hope will be greatness for a 26-year-old right-hander, who signed a $52 million, six-year contract after Boston agreed to pay the Seibu Lions $51,111,111 for his rights.

"Generally, it is easier for me to pitch against a batter," Matsuzaka said. "As I threw more pitches I felt that my arms were moving smoother so you saw what I was feeling."

Matsuzaka threw his first 20 pitches from the stretch position and the next 20 from a full windup. He followed that with one pitchout to each side of the plate and then one pitch to the outside of both sides with Varitek in a crouch. His fastball sped up as the session progressed. Of his 44 pitches, 20 were breaking balls.

"When I think of how I pitch during the games, I have runners in my mind," he said. "That's why I start generally from the stretch position."

When he's in a full windup, he pauses at the top of his delivery for differing durations so batters can't time his release.

"There's the element of surprise," Farrell said.

Matsuzaka is scheduled to throw 50 pitches in batting practice on Monday then make his first exhibition game appearance Friday night against Boston College. He's expected to throw 35 pitches or two innings, whichever comes first.

"All of his pitches have, I think, exceptional definition," Farrell said. "His changeup is just an outstanding pitch, as are all of his pitches, but I think his changeup really stands out."

Farrell actually noticed a flaw in Matsuzaka's delivery. Sometimes he releases the ball early and the pitch tends to go high. He's working on that.

"For me to see how far I have achieved in preparation for the games is to see how the batters are reacting to my pitches," Matsuzaka said. "So today was an important day for me."

When he finished throwing, he walked into left field. Photographers followed, leaving the line between third and home empty _ just as the Red Sox hope he'll leave it with few opponents running to the plate.

"He's going to have tremendous success against major league hitters," Scales said.

Notes:@ Outfielder David Murphy hit against Beckett and Schiling and said both were very sharp. ... Francona said lefty Jon Lester looked "tremendous" in batting practice. Lester underwent cancer treatment in the offseason and tests show he's free of the disease. ... Francona missed Friday's workout with flulike symptoms and said he watched court proceedings regarding Anna Nicole Smith on television. "I wanted to see if Manny (Ramirez) would show up there," Francona said. Boston's enigmatic outfielder has the team's permission to report on March 1, the day after the first game.