Daisuke Matsuzaka signs with Mets

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka delivers a

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka delivers a pitch during the first inning of a game against the Yankees. (Oct. 3, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

Daisuke Matsuzaka's first foray in the big leagues started seven years ago with tall tales of his exploits in Japan and stories about the mystery of his "gyroball.''

His second act begins Friday night at Citi Field with far less fanfare.

The Mets signed the righthander on Thursday to a deal that covers the remainder of the season in hopes that he still has enough left in the tank to eat innings as the year winds down.

Once a star pitcher, Matsuzaka fits in as part of the team's effort to protect the arms of phenoms Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Matsuzaka's first assignment comes Friday night against the Tigers, his first big-league start since Oct. 3, 2012, with the Red Sox.

The signing represents an intersection of shared interests. Matsuzaka asked for his release from the Indians' organization so he could explore prospects for a big-league job; the Mets desperately needed a veteran arm to carry out their plans to keep Harvey and Wheeler within their approaching innings limits.

Matsuzaka, who will be 33 next month, asked for his release Tuesday.

He posted a 3.92 ERA in 19 starts with Triple-A Columbus. With the Mets, he will wear No. 16, Dwight Gooden's old number.

The Mets hope to avoid shutting down Harvey and Wheeler before the end of the season while also giving them added rest between starts. But season-ending elbow injuries suffered by righthanders Jenrry Mejia and Jeremy Hefner -- both of whom eventually will require surgery -- depleted the team's depth and pushed the Mets toward making a move.

The Mets explored dipping into their store of minor-league arms and even discussed calling up prospects such as Jacob deGrom. But innings restrictions took options such as deGrom and Rafael Montero off the table.

Before signing Matsuzaka, the Mets had moved reliever Carlos Torres into the rotation to start Friday night, a move that bumped Harvey to Saturday so he would pitch on an extra day's rest. But Matsuzaka bumped Torres back into the bullpen, where he has been far more effective.

Reliever Greg Burke was demoted to Las Vegas to make room for Matsuzaka.

Amid great fanfare in 2007, the Red Sox beat out several suitors to lure Matsuzaka from Japan for $104.1 million -- $52.1 million for the posting fee and $52 million to secure him for six years of mostly underwhelming performance. He is 50-37 with a 4.52 ERA in his big-league career.

Even at his best, Matsuzaka's starts often devolved into wars of attrition. Games dragged on thanks to his deliberate style and his tendency to nibble at the edges of the strike zone.

In his first two seasons, Matsuzaka started 61 games for the Red Sox, going 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA. But in his next four years, he went 17-22 with a 5.53 ERA. Only once in his previous four seasons did he make more than 20 starts in a year.

Matsuzaka battled shoulder issues in 2009 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. He last pitched in the big leagues last season for the Red Sox and went 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA.

But one rival scout who watched Matsuzaka pitch recently said the pitcher still has good enough stuff to compete in the big leagues. Another talent evaluator who recently watched Matsuzaka clocked his fastball at 87 to 91 mph, though the righthander has relied mostly on his off-speed offerings, including a slider that has been his best pitch. His fly-ball tendencies also might play well at spacious Citi Field.

Against Triple-A competition, Matsuzaka struck out 95 and walked 39 in 103 innings.

Said the scout: "[He] adds and subtracts with his fastball and read swings well, just doesn't have that plus fastball or nasty split to finish hitters.''

advertisement | advertise on newsday

MLB video

advertisement | advertise on newsday