Newsday’s Jon Heyman on the pitcher who could be the Yankees’ latest pricey acquisition from Japan.

Seibu Lions righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka (above) still hopes to pitch in the major leagues this season even after his Japanese League team rejected his request to leave earlier this week. And if Matsuzaka somehow can convince his current employers to reverse course, the Yankees are expected to hotly pursue the pitcher considered by many to be the best in the Japanese League.

A major-league source said Yankees officials were severely disappointed when Seibu on Monday declined Matsuzaka’s request to be offered to the big leagues, though not as disappointed as Matsuzaka, 25, who recently hired agent Scott Boras to help him realize his dream to play baseball in the United States.

Yankees reports are extremely favorable on Matsuzaka, who went 14-13 with a 2.30 ERA and led the Pacific League in strikeouts (226), innings (215) and complete games (15).

“The interest in Matsuzaka is widespread from numerous major-league teams,” Boras said yesterday. “If he were posted, he’d be one of the premier pitchers in the big leagues because of his age and velocity.”

Although Yankees people identify the bullpen and centerfield as their two greatest areas of need, they do not pass up chances to acquire someone they believe to be great, and scouts who’ve seen Matsuzaka are effusive in their praise of a pitcher who tops out at 96 mph and features a “double-spin” screwball, or “gyroball,” which breaks into and then away from a righthanded batter.

If Matsuzaka and Boras somehow can convince Seibu to change its original decision, there will be a scramble for the pitcher. “Everyone’s going to want him. He’s a no-brainer,” one major-league scout said. “He’s a big-money guy.”

More on Matsuzaka and the gyroball, from Roto Authority.