FORT MYERS, Fla. - They have never met. Their backgrounds are as different as could be. And, most likely, they won't be able to communicate too much once initial introductions are finally made today.
But if there is one person who understands what awaits Daisuke Matsuzaka, it is his new Red Sox rotation mate, Josh Beckett.
"It's going to be challenge for him," said Beckett in his slight Texas drawl while sitting poolside at his rented Fort Myers home. "I definitely feel if I could give him one piece of advice it would be to trust Jason (Varitek)."
In Beckett's first newspaper interview since arriving for his second spring training with the Red Sox, the pitcher looked back at what transpired during an up-and-down 2006 season while discussing his expectations for this season.
Topping the list of regrets in his first season in the American League was Beckett's initial approach to finding the balance between trusting a new catcher and trusting himself.
Beckett had an understandable desire to integrate himself into his new surroundings.
"I don't think it was a communication problem, but it was one of those deals where I just wanted to get along. I was trying to get a comfortable feeling of being around him while getting to know him," Beckett said of his early dealings with Varitek.
"I see how much work he puts into that stuff. It's one of those deals where you want to trust him, and I wish I would have done that more often because I probably would have thrown more curveballs in different counts. I almost felt like I was cheating myself by not saying anything."
Most thought his curveball was missing when he struggled last season, in which he posted a 16-11 record with a 5.01 ERA. But as he explained, it was actually the changeup which really ailed him throughout the 2006 season.
According to Beckett, the Red Sox were quick to classify their new potential ace as a fastball and curveball guy, with the changeup used as option No. 3. Yet, even though he initially didn't admit to it, the pitcher knew otherwise.
"They were drilling into my head about (the changeup) being too hard," Beckett recalled. "I don't know if I started believing it or what. It was one of those deals where you come to a new place and you want to get along with everybody. It took me half the season to feel comfortable to the point where I had to say something. But it's definitely something I want to focus on this year."
In Beckett's opinion, it was always his changeup which was his priority when setting up hitters. The statistics bear that out, with the righty throwing the pitch 13 percent of the time before he came to Boston. Despite Beckett throwing it faster than most traditional changeups (his ranges between 81 and 87 mph), hitters only managed a .198 batting average against the offspeed offering, while chasing (swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone) an impressive 34 percent of the time.
But without prioritizing it in spring training and early in the season, Beckett had the lost the feel of what is considered the ultimate touch pitch.
In what was perhaps his most disastrous outing of the season, the June 5 game in New York against the Yankees, not one of Beckett's 45 pitches was a changeup. The end result was a 11/3-inning outing.
"I talked to Jason before every game. Before one game I talked to him about (throwing the changeup) more often," Beckett said. "I had been talking to my dad and he was asking why I wasn't throwing my changeup. It kind of hit me that that was what I needed to do. I tried, but it is such a feel pitch that you just don't go out there and throw it. You have to try it before every start."
Rediscovering his changeup took time. Bullpen sessions between starts already were an adjustment. That is because Beckett heeded the advice of former teammate Al Leiter and wore a Band-Aid during workouts to prevent what had been recurring blisters on his right middle finger.
But by the time the season ended, Beckett's changeup had re-emerged. Although his final tally had him throwing the pitch just 10 percent of the time - with batters hitting 30 points better than in the past - there were encouraging results.
From mid-August to mid-September, Beckett made seven starts in which his ERA was almost a run lower than his season's mark, surrendering three home runs during that span.
"It was there at the end of the season," Beckett said of his changeup. "I felt like I threw a lot of good ones, and a lot of that had to do with throwing it the starts prior to that. Each start it got better and better, and that was because I had a better feel for it."
MATSUZAKA OPENS UP
Four hours after Josh Beckett finished up his round of golf with teammates Jon Lester and Kason Gabbard, Daisuke Matsuzaka held a press conference for approximately 150 media members atop the third base dugout at City of Palm's Park.
Sitting in front of the a backdrop displaying the Funai Electronics brand name (signage which will be present for every Japanese-related press conference, paying the Red Sox slightly more than $900,000), Matsuzaka touched on a number of issues.
Here are the highlights:
* He tried throwing the knuckleball during his workouts in California, but without much success.
* He feels strong physically, having prepared for the Japanese spring training schedule, which is a bit earlier than Major League Baseball's start.
* Matsuzaka will apologize to any teammate who is bothered by added media attention.
* He likely will team up with Hideki Okajima as a throwing partner, but hopes to eventually play toss with Tim Wakefield.
* He hopes to throw a fastball for his first pitch.
* Matsuzaka had dinner with Ichiro Suzuki to learn about playing in United States.
* He has no plans to change his pitching approach.
* Matsuzaka wants to be the kind of positive influence Hideo Nomo was on him to younger people in Japan.
* The Japanese star has started to learn English.
* He will throw a gyroball if he has the chance (although wouldn't exactly say if it really exists).
* Matsuzaka was upbeat and glib.
* The translator was Red Sox media liaison Sachiwo Sekiguchi. Reviews of her translation by Japanese media members revealed she was better than the translator at the Fenway Park press conference but not as good as the full-time translator who will be working with the team.