Dice-K looks to pad resume vs. Cuba

Japan righty will try to remain unbeaten in Classic play on Sunday

The Mariners' Kenji Johjima tracks down a popup during Japan's workout on Saturday. (KC Alfred/AP)

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SAN DIEGO -- Daisuke Matsuzaka was still a pitcher for the Seibu Lions when he took the mound for Team Japan to face the Cubans in the final game of the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Less than a year later, the Red Sox paid the Lions a $51.1 million posting fee and signed the right-hander to a six-year, $52 million contract.

He will pitch Sunday against left-handed Cuban starter Aroldis Chapman as the only man in baseball history to own this trifecta: a part of the 2006 Classic title, the 2006 Classic MVP trophy and a 2007 World Series ring with the Red Sox.

"Matsuzaka is always an outstanding pitcher, and we will also have a great pitcher," Cuban manager Higinio Velez said after his club worked out at PETCO Park on Saturday. "We respect him, but we will do absolutely everything possible to win the game. We know, as you know, he is an outstanding thrower, and he has demonstrated this over and over again in the Major Leagues. This is not a fluke of the last World Baseball Classic, and we are prepared to see him again."

Matsuzaka was a big reason for Japan's 2006 victory. After shutting down the Cubans for four innings in a 10-6 finals victory, he finished the tournament 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA -- two earned runs in 13 innings pitched.

In his two years pitching for the Red Sox, he's 33-15, following an eight-year career with the Lions in which he finished 108-60. He's also 3-1 for Boston in seven postseason starts, including a Game 3 victory over the Rockies in the Series.

Matsuzaka is still a favorite of Japanese baseball fans everywhere and certainly, at 28, an accomplished big-game pitcher.

He started and won Japan's second game in the first round, pitching the first four innings of his club's 14-2, mercy-rule shortened victory over the Koreans. Matsuzaka allowed two runs on four hits, walking two and striking out one, bringing his overall Classic record to 4-0. He didn't pitch this past week, as the Japanese won exhibition games over the Giants and Cubs in Arizona.

"In the Tokyo round, he loves pitching there," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said on Saturday. "And then after that game, an hour later, I told him he was going to be the pitcher the first game in San Diego. I told him that."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.