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Daisuke Matsuzaka gets first major-league save

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Anthony Recker of the Mets

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Anthony Recker of the Mets celebrate after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Daisuke Matsuzaka is careful, deliberate.

Sometimes he'll start warming up two innings earlier than when he's expected to pitch out of the bullpen -- a trait bullpen coach Ricky Bones is trying to rid him of -- and when asked about his first major-league save Thursday, he looked up to the Mets' clubhouse ceiling and muttered a long "Mmmmm" as he contemplated nearly every question.

But not this one: Did you ever doubt you could do this?

"I never really thought I could pitch out of the bullpen," the former starter said through an interpreter. "I just take so long to prepare."

Doubt. Long warm-ups. A history of wildness and a repertoire of pitches as big as any in baseball. This is not the stuff a closer is made of. Or a setup man, for that matter. But if manager Terry Collins has his druthers, that's exactly what Dice-K is being groomed to become.

"I want him to get used to it because I don't know what's going to happen," Collins said, underlining that Kyle Farnsworth is the Mets' primary closer. "Don't be shocked if something should happen where [Matsuzaka] ends up pitching the ninth inning . . . I wanted to see how Dice handles it."

At least in the 4-1 win over the Cardinals -- a game in which Farnsworth was unavailable -- Matsuzaka proved capable in the art of adaptability. Neither he nor catcher Anthony Recker knew he would be closing until right before the ninth, though Collins said he made the decision that morning.

Regardless, Matsuzaka made easy work of the 5-6-7 hitters: Allen Craig flied to right, Daniel Descalso struck out swinging and Peter Bourjos popped to Recker in foul ground.

He threw 15 pitches -- cutters, fastballs, curveballs and a changeup ("they have no idea what's coming," Recker said).

It was only the second save of his career; the first was a three-inning job with the Seibu Lions in 2000. Matsuzaka was a starter for 15 years before losing the competition for the fifth spot in the Mets' rotation to Jenrry Mejia in spring training. He was called up April 16.

"It's definitely different," he said. "Going out in the seventh or eighth is different [from starting] and going out in the ninth is definitely different. Pressure-wise it's different."

Collins acknowledged that Matsuzaka's lengthy pitching preparation doesn't always make him an ideal candidate for emergency situations. That's been reined in slightly, he said, and there no doubt will be future in-game situations that test Matsuzaka's established habits.

"I still have to throw more than other pitchers because I don't feel I'm ready yet," he said. "To comfort myself, I probably throw more than I have to . . . But having had a few opportunities in these tight situations is definitely encouraging, and it's the type of situations that a pitcher wants to be in.

"It's a different type of pressure from when I start but I definitely enjoyed."

Spoken like a true (spot) closer.

New York Sports