PORTLAND — The pause at the top of the delivery, the easy follow-through, the balancing act on his left leg after releasing the ball – it was all familiar for Boston Red Sox fans.

What was different was that Daisuke Matsuzaka was at Hadlock Field in a Portland Sea Dogs uniform.
Matsuzaka looked sharp throughout the 4 2⁄3 innings he pitched Saturday afternoon for the Sea Dogs in helping them defeat the Reading Phillies 9-1 before a sold-out crowd of 7,368.

In his second rehab start since coming back from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, Matsuzaka was in command throughout, challenging hitters with a fastball that touched 93 mph and an assortment of off-speed stuff that baffled the Phillies.

He threw 74 pitches, 44 for strikes, and went to a three-ball count on only three of the 17 batters he faced. Matsuzaka, who has frustrated Boston fans with a couple of uneven seasons, allowed only three hits, walked two and struck out seven.

“Dice-K was very impressive,’’ said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles. “Attacked the zone, kept the defense involved. It’s just fun to watch a major leaguer go about his business the way he does. It was a great example, something our guys should definitely learn from.’’

Speaking through an interpreter about 30 minutes after he left the game, Matsuzaka said he was pleased with his performance and his recovery from surgery.

“I’m progressing well, as I was able to do things that I wasn’t able to do well in my previous start,’’ he said. “But there are areas I still need to work on. That is going to be the focus for my upcoming starts.’’

Where the next start will be is still up in the air. Neither Matsuzaka nor Boles knew if he would make another start with the Sea Dogs.

Portland backed Matsuzaka with errorless defense and timely hitting.

The Sea Dogs were somewhat handcuffed the first two innings by Reading starter Jonathan Pettibone (1-3). But they worked long at-bats, driving up his pitch count.

“(Pettibone) had a real good two-seam (fastball),’’ said Portland right fielder Bryce Brentz. “But he had trouble locating it inside for strikes. So we just laid off that and looked for something we could hit.’’

They broke through in the third on an RBI double by Reynaldo Rodriguez and RBI infield single by Oscar Tejeda.

Portland added four runs in the bottom of the fourth, knocking Pettibone out of the game. Ryan Dent drove in one run with a single. Derrik Gibson had a run-scoring fielder’s choice, and Rodriguez made it 6-0 with a two-run bloop single to center.

“Our guys kept a real good approach (at the plate),’’ said Boles. “I thought we managed the strike zone, managed to get some walks and got some timely hits.’’

Matsuzaka left with two outs in the top of the fifth. With one out, he gave up a sun-aided triple to Miguel Abreu. After a strikeout, he walked Steve Lerud on a close 3-2 pitch.

Out came Boles, who replaced Matsuzaka with Chris Martin, the original scheduled starter. After giving up a run-scoring single to the first batter, Martin close out the game with 4 1⁄3 innings of shutout ball, allowing six hits and striking out three.

“When the manager came out, I knew what it meant,’’ said Matsuzaka. “But my body felt fine. … If it weren’t a rehab start I know I would have been able to finish the inning.’’

Dan Butler, the Sea Dogs catcher, said Matsuzaka was “going right after guys. That’s a plus, when you’ve got a guy throwing to contact.’’

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH