BOSTON (Reuters) - Prospects of a dream season for the Boston Red Sox have turned nightmarish and Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka could take the hit after the team's dismal 2-9 start to the season.
The Red Sox added free agent outfielder Carl Crawford and hard-hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup to build high hopes for 2011 but the team has stumbled out of the gate and has the worst record in Major League Baseball.
Matsuzaka, hampered by injuries over the last two seasons, poured gasoline on the fire in his last outing Monday, which extended his career-high winless streak to seven starts.
The Japanese right-hander was burned for seven runs in two innings of work against the Tampa Bay Rays and panic over the team's early failures have left local newspapers and radio sports stations calling for him to be shelved.
A Boston Globe blogger wrote that the 30-year-old Matsuzaka, who has two years left on his contract at $10 million per season, must be traded.
The Boston Herald, like the Globe, ran a poll on their website asking readers what the Red Sox should do with Matsuzaka, who was loudly booed when he walked off the mound after his latest Fenway Park struggle.
"I wanted to aggressively pound the strike zone," Matsuzaka told reporters after dropping to 0-2 for the season after the 16-5 loss to Tampa Bay sent his earned run average to 12.86.
"However, my balls came into the middle of the zone and I didn't have enough life in my pitches to get the batters out."
Rays hitters teed off as if at batting practice, stroking eight hits with two walks in Matsuzaka's two innings of work.
Boston manager Terry Francona said he was pondering possible moves with his pitching staff, with one option being to skip over Matsuzaka's next start in the rotation.
"If you make decisions based on emotion and a bad start we wouldn't have a team left," the manager said.
Matsuzaka arrived in Boston with great fanfare, armed with a wide assortment of pitches including a mystifying one called a gyroball. After two strong seasons, he has gone off kilter.
The Red Sox won a bidding war for the pitcher before the 2007 season, paying his Japanese club a $51 million posting fee and signing him to a six-year, $52-million deal.
He registered a sparkling 18-3 mark with a 2.90 ERA in his second season before injuries hampered him the next two years. Since the 2009 campaign, Matsuzaka is 13-14 with a 5.34 ERA.
"You can't say that that was a bad signing," Minaya told the Boston Globe. "He's won in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He's won in the World Series. So to say that's a bad contract is not the way I would characterize it."
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Frank Pingue)