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For Tigers, Tazawa is one that got away

For Tigers, Tazawa is one that got away

BOSTON -- This wasn't exactly the way the Tigers would have liked to see Junichi Tazawa's first Major League start.

Detroit was one of the handful of teams interested in the Japanese youngster as he burned through hitters in Japan's industrial leagues. Though the Tigers haven't been active in recent years in signing Japanese players, they liked Tazawa a lot, and they wouldn't have had to pay a posting fee to sign him like Major League clubs pay for players who reach pro level in Japan. But the Red Sox won him over with a three-year Major League contract and a chance to pitch for the same franchise where Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima have starred.

Signing Tazawa would have given the Tigers some valuable young pitching depth in a system that hasn't have an abundance of it past Rick Porcello. Instead, they'll get to see whether Tazawa is ready for the big leagues by stepping to the plate against him. In return, however, the Red Sox will have to deal with Porcello, Detroit's own bright young pitching star.

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Though Tazawa spent most of the season pitching in the Eastern League, the Tigers' Double-A Erie players never saw him because of the order of Portland's rotation. None of the current Tigers, including former SeaWolves catcher Alex Avila, have seen this 23-year-old right-hander aside from his televised extra-inning relief appearance Friday against the Yankees in defeat.

Still, the Tigers front office and scouting department obviously know him.

"I'm not surprised by his success," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

Tazawa went 9-5 with a 2.57 ERA at Portland, allowing 80 hits over 98 innings with 26 walks and 88 strikeouts. He was called up last month for two starts at Triple-A Pawtucket, both of them losses, before being promoted to Boston last week, when Boston designated veteran John Smoltz for assignment.

There's no hubbub about a gyroball like what followed Daisuke Matsuzaka. But there's the belief in a good, solid pitcher with talent.

It'll be a good matchup for Porcello, and it becomes a potentially huge matchup after the Red Sox took Monday's series opener and chased Edwin Jackson after four innings for the second time in three outings.

After strong fears that Porcello was running out of gas a few weeks ago, his past two starts have shown signs of a second wind. His first career outing at Fenway will be another addition to his career highlights, almost as big as Tazawa's first start in any big league park will be for him.

A win at Fenway against a lineup that knocked him out in the fifth inning in June would be even bigger for Porcello.

Pitching matchup
DET: RHP Rick Porcello (10-7, 4.30 ERA)
A better tempo, renewed sinker and improved command of secondary pitches has Porcello heating up just in time for the stretch run, something the Tigers couldn't have planned better if they tried. His two runs allowed over 5 2/3 innings his previous outing, on Thursday against Baltimore, didn't show how effective he was early, when he no-hit the Orioles through the first four innings. Porcello will need his sinker working to keep his game from getting away from him at Fenway Park, where he has never pitched. Porcello gave up three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings against the Red Sox June 2 at Comerica Park.

BOS: RHP Junichi Tazawa (0-1, 10.80 ERA)
The right-hander will have the comfort of being able to prepare a little more for his second Major League appearance then his debut on Friday at Yankee Stadium. In that one, Tazawa -- on the same day he was promoted to the Majors -- was called on in the 14th inning to pitch at Yankee Stadium. After escaping a jam in his first inning, he gave up a walk-off two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez in the 15th. Tazawa will now move to his more natural role of starter, replacing Smoltz in the rotation. In 20 Minor League starts this season, Tazawa went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA. This will be his Fenway Park debut. The 23-year-old Tazawa never pitched pro baseball before this season. He put up dazzling numbers in the industrial leagues in Japan.

Tidbits
The Tigers have lost their past five games against Red Sox dating back to May 8, 2008. ... Avila will be back in the Tigers' lineup the next couple nights to catch Porcello and Armando Galarraga. It will be Avila's first game action since Friday. ... Magglio Ordonez is batting .347 (109-for-314) in 84 career games against the Red Sox, the second-best average among active hitters. That includes a .384 average at Fenway Park. Ordonez went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple Monday. ... Typhoon Morakot left death and destruction in its path across Taiwan, but Fu-Te Ni said his friends and family have thankfully survived the storm with their health and their homes intact.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-D HD

On radio
• WXYT 1270/97.1 FM

Up next
• Wednesday: Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 6-10, 5.23) at Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 13-4, 3.12), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Tigers (Justin Verlander, 12-6, 3.45) at Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 1-2, 5.33), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Friday: Tigers (Jarrod Washburn, 8-7, 3.12) vs. Royals (Zack Greinke, 11-7, 2.43), 7:05 p.m. ET

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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