The fact that we’re even having this conversation with the Orioles standing at 8-6 on the young season is kind of ironic. However in losing to the L.A. Angels 6-3 last night, Brian Matusz didn’t do much to solidify a claim to remaining in the big leagues. Of all the starters coming out of camp, Matusz was the only one who I personally felt earned his spot in the rotation in that he was probably on the outside looking in prior to spring training. Now it might be a stretch for him not to be sent back to Norfolk at some point in the near future. Matusz’s line last night: 5 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 6 K.
In fairness, there is a little bit more than meets the eye to the stat line above. Matusz’s outing wasn’t a total loss by any means. After the game Buck Showalter said that Matusz had some balls up in the first inning as many pitchers do, but that he adjusted well moving forward. However Matusz was consistently let down by the defense behind him (only four of his charged six runs were earned). Second baseman Robert Andino made a series of throwing errors in the third, and center fielder Adam Jones was charged with another one later in the game. Those were just the errors on paper; there were numerous other plays that probably could have been made by the defense behind Matusz which weren’t.
There was nothing that was said by manager Buck Showalter or any of the coaches after the game that would lead anyone to believe that Matusz was going to be sent down. However people would be naive to think that it at least hasn’t crossed the minds of the powers that be. While most of this has no effect on 2012, Matusz has a 12-game losing streak dating back to last year, the longest in the majors. Matusz’s ERA curently stands at 7.98, which ironically is a huge improvement over his 10.69 ERA last year (which set a record). Just based on what I myself have seen in games, he also seems to be hanging fastballs on the outside part of the plate, which turns into a pull-hitter’s dream. However his velocity is right where it should be after last year’s debacle of losing steam on his fastballs. The good news is that command is something that can definitely be worked on in the interim as opposed to velocity. The question is whether or not Baltimore or Norfolk is the place for Matusz to work these kinks out.
I’m not suggesting that Matusz should or should not be sent down; I’m just saying that he hasn’t pitched at the level that we saw in spring training to this point, so it’s probably something that’s being discussed (behind closed doors of course). My personal opinion is that he’ll stay with the Orioles for the time being. According to Brittany Ghiroli, the Orioles’ beat writer for mlb.com, Tsuyoshi Wada suffered a setback of sorts in his rehab start at triple-A Norfolk. Wada gave up 6 runs on 6 hits over 2 2/3’s of an inning, and afterwards complained of neck stiffness. Towards the end of spring training manager Buck Showalter said that he viewed Wada as a starter since that’s what he’s been for his entire career. It’s unclear whether or not the Orioles are going to continue Wada’s rehab starts, or send him back to extended spring training in Sarasota. However I think that if Wada was ready Matusz might well be at risk of being sent down. Furthermore there doesn’t appear to be anyone else at Norfolk who’s literally breaking the door down to come up to the big leagues.
Matusz has been inconsistent for sure, but his performances have also been a far cry from what he did last year. If I were Buck Showalter here’s what I would do; skip Matusz in the rotation next time around. The Orioles have an off day on Monday as they travel back from the west coast, which means that if one guy is skipped the other four starters will still be pitching on normal rest. (Off days are just that…off days. However managers can also use them as tools.) Prior to last night’s game Showalter said that he was considered pushing back Wei-Yin Chen in a similar manner because he isn’t used to pitching every five days. I understood that for the first couple of weeks, however at some point the guy has to condition himself for how rotations work in MLB. So I say give Chen his normal turn in the rotation and skip Matusz. This will not only allow Chen to learn how to pitch on normal rest, but it will also give Matusz the opportunity to get in extra side work and some extra bullpen sessions to hopefully work out the kinks in his repetoire. It will also give them a chance to see the extent of Wada’s injury so that if they have to make a change they know what their options are. As for last night, Matusz definitely could have been sharper (especially in the first couple of innings). However the same can be said for the defense behind him.
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