BOSTON -- When Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound on Saturday afternoon against the Nationals, he will likely take at least a moment to soak in the joy of his comeback being complete.
The start comes one day shy of the one-year anniversary of Matsuzaka undergoing Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, a procedure which at least raised the question of whether he would ever throw another pitch for the Red Sox.
Matsuzaka's contract expires at the end of 2012.
"Saturday's game will be a special game. It will present a new step for me," Matsuzaka said. "It is going to be a very emotional day, but I have to remain calm and treat it like any other start I've had throughout my career."
This will be the first of Matsuzaka's 106 Major League starts not to be managed by Terry Francona. Instead, he will now pitch for Bobby Valentine, a man who managed against him in Japan before calling some of his Red Sox games as an ESPN broadcaster.
"It's hard to predict what's going to happen," Valentine said. "I hope he throws strikes, and I hope he has more than two pitches to do it with, and I'd be happy if that happened."
Valentine is trying not to hold any grand expectations for Dice-K.
"Again, I don't have anything to compare it to," Valentine said. "I've seen some of his games. I thought they were terrific. I'd like him to pitch like some of his past terrific games. I don't want to generalize on what he was or can be. Let's just take it as his first start in 2012, and then we'll talk about it."
Red Sox to designate Byrd for assignment
BOSTON -- Shortly after Friday night's 7-4 loss to the Nationals, outfielder Marlon Byrd was called into manager Bobby Valentine's office with the news that the team plans on designating him for assignment before Saturday's game.
The Red Sox need a roster spot so they can activate Daisuke Matsuzaka for his start against Washington in Saturday's 4:05 p.m. ET game.
Byrd was acquired in a trade with the Cubs for pitching prospect Michael Bowden on April 21, back when Boston was decimated by injuries in the outfield.
The veteran opened his time with the Red Sox with a six-game hitting streak but had cooled off since then.
With the emergence of Daniel Nava and Scott Podsednik, not to mention Adrian Gonzalez playing a little in the outfield, Byrd's role had become sparing of late.
In 34 games for the Red Sox, Byrd hit .270 with one homer, seven RBIs and a .286 on-base percentage.
He entered Friday's game as a pinch-hitter and went 0-for-1.
Like Harper, Valentine was a 19-year-old rookie
BOSTON -- With Bryce Harper making his Fenway Park debut on Friday night, it should be noted that the man who was managing against him was also 19 years old when he was called to the Major Leagues for the first time.
However, Bobby Valentine isn't trying to fool anyone into thinking he was anything close to Harper back in 1969.
"I was [just] in uniform when I was 19," Valentine said. "Much different. I was a token September callup at 19 and pinch-ran a couple of times. I was nowhere near ready to play in the Major Leagues. And he's doing more than holding his own."
- 142 wins
- 110 wins
Valentine would play just five games with the Dodgers during that first callup and didn't make any plate appearances. He scored three runs and only wishes he had a chance to score a fourth in the most dramatic way possible.
"I got to third base once, and Danny Ozark was the third-base coach," Valentine said. "He actually told me to steal home. John Curtis, I think, was the pitcher -- there was a left-hander pitching out of the windup, and I said, 'I'll do it next pitch.' Willie Davis hit a fly ball to left on that pitch. I was gonna steal home as a 19-year-old. That would have been interesting, and there was a left-handed hitter at the plate."
Valentine has enjoyed tracking Harper's progress.
"Well, following his ascent to the big leagues, I've been very impressed," Valentine said. "When he left high school and went to junior college, I was amazed. When he hit all those home runs, I was even more amazed. He was drafted No. 1 and said he'd get to the big leagues before you know it. He's an amazing, amazing young man."
What impresses Valentine most about Harper?
"Well, he does play very aggressively," Valentine said. "He'll run out of the box, our outfielders know he'll try to challenge you. He dives in the outfield. He throws all the way to the base when he throws the ball. He's an interesting young man. It's incredible."
Command issues follow Bard to Triple-A
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- It wasn't the start Daniel Bard or the Red Sox were hoping for.
Making his first start with Triple-A Pawtucket since being optioned to the Minors to work on his mechanics, Bard struggled in his only inning vs. Indianapolis on Friday night.
The converted reliever hit the first batter he faced with his second pitch, a 95-mph fastball. Next, Bard allowed a bloop single to right and then hit Sterling Marte with a 94-mph heater.
Bard also struggled with his command in his last start in the Majors, walking six and hitting two batters in 1 2/3 innings on Sunday in Toronto. On Friday, it was more of the same.
The right-hander never really looked comfortable on the mound. Bard struck out Yamaico Navarro on four pitches after an RBI groundout. But he gave up a two-run double to Jeff Larish before striking out Brandon Boggs to end the inning.
"The best thing about throwing down here is you can kind of ignore the results and not worry about wins and losses as much," Bard said. "[I was] trying some tweaks mechanically, and I think it was really good on some pitches -- and that's what I was looking for, to get that feel. I didn't expect it to be perfect on every pitch. The pitches it felt good on did what they were supposed to and went where they were supposed to [go]."
Bard was scheduled to pitch just one inning Friday as part of the Red Sox's plan to get the first-year starter back on track.
"It was a tough situation, it's such a weird outing," Bard said. "You prepare as [if it's] a start, but knowing you're only going one inning you try to block that out. It's a little bit of a weird mentality."
In his lone inning, Bard allowed three runs on two hits, struck out two and hit two batters. He threw 25 pitches (16 strikes) and reached 96 mph on his fastball.
"I don't want to look too much into results and more how it felt," Bard said. "Just go out there and work on the mechanical side and get in the mindset of being more aggressive in the zone."
Bard is scheduled to start again on Monday vs. Gwinnett (Braves).
"I think I might go two [innings], I told them I could do this out of the bullpen, and they wanted to keep doing it starting and keep that routine in place, we'll talk about it [Saturday]," he said.
The Red Sox optioned Bard to the Minors on Tuesday. He went 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA, 34 walks and 37 strikeouts in 55 innings over 11 appearances with Boston, including 10 starts. His WHIP was 1.62.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thinks Bard has been adversely affected by too many voices in his ear during his first season as a starter.
"I'll go by other people's eyes, ears and I'll try to stay in communication," Valentine said. "But the one thing from Spring Training, from the winter time that I heard with Daniel is that we didn't want too many voices. We didn't want there to be confusion. In our last talk, we tried to narrow it down to who it is that he'd be working with."
Triple-A pitching coach Rich Sauveur will be the point man for Bard during his time in Pawtucket.
The Red Sox want to see Bard bring the same mentality he had as a reliever into his starts. Part of that is keeping the velocity up on his fastball, which he's struggled with as a starter.
"I think what we're trying to do is get some of that power back and direction, and I think they really go hand in hand," Bard said. "Using my lower body and getting everything going toward the target with some power, and typically that keeps everything on line. The command and velocity will kind of come together."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.