Baltimore Orioles: Matusz for Comeback Player of the Year?

I attended the wedding of one of my many cousins last night, and some of my relatives were talking about the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez winning the Cy Young award this year. I think it’s a bit premature to talk about that, however as I was driving home late last night I thought about Brian Matusz’s performance yesterday afternoon against Tampa and it made me wonder if Matusz wasn’t a legit contender for Comeback Player of the Year. First off, Matusz’s stat line: 7.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K. With the win, Matusz improves to 5-5 on the season.

In looking at his record, you might question the whole comebacker of the year point. However this was Matusz’s fourth consecutive quality start. The idea behind the Comeback Player of the Year award is to reward a player that re-emerged after a lackluster or perhaps injury-riddled season. Matusz was hurt for the first two months of 2011, and after he came back he was as ineffective as ineffective gets (before going back to the minors for much of the summer). He finished the season 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA which broke a record for pitchers starting at least 10 games.

Many times when teams break long winning streaks they’ll do so in ugly manners. It’s rarely a 2-1 game that you battle through and just end up losing; normally you end up losing those games 9-0 or something like that. However ironically the reverse is not true in that one would think that a team that breaks a long losing streak would win ugly. Behind Matusz’s A-List effort yesterday, the Birds churned out a 2-1 victory which snapped a six-game losing streak. My point has been the same throughout, which was teams are going to go through streaks like that over the course of 162 games. It’s just a matter of keeping your head up throughout it, and knowing that eventually someone’s going to step up and stop it. That was Brian Matusz in this case. While some of the other starters have been struggling, Matusz has seemingly found himself over the past month or so. The velocity has returned to his arm, but more importantly he’s able to command the strike zone (especially inside). That usually makes for a good pitcher.

The losing streak wasn’t all on the starting pitching; Oriole bats were silent throughout. This is not to say that they were an offensive juggernaut yesterday either, however they did what they had to do. After Friday’s game I noted that while they couldn’t drive in any runs the fact that the O’s loaded the bases twice was a good sign. At the very least they were starting to work the count and find ways to get on base again. Again, you’re hard-pressed to call a five-hit offensive effort good, but it yielded the Orioles the two runs they needed to win the game. Endy Chavez hit his first homer of the year to put the Birds ahead 1-0, and after Tampa tied the score on an Oriole error the Birds re-took the lead in a similar manner in the 7th. Many people would argue that the winning run (scored by Mark Reynolds) was unearned, and thus it’s a tough stretch to say that the O’s “found a way to score runs to win.” However runs tend to score when errors are committed with guys on base. The more traffic on the base paths, the larger the chance that something “interesting” could happen.

The Birds will try to start a modest winning streak, and more importantly win the series with Tampa this afternoon in the rubber match at the Trop. The struggling Jake Arrieta will take to the mound against Matt Moore who hasn’t won a game since May 1st. Moore has a 4.76 ERA, so if the Orioles might be able to get the bats further producing in this game. A win today would put the Birds once again in sole possession of first place in the AL East as they head to Boston for a series that opens up on Tuesday. This is a huge game for Arrieta, as he’s been struggling of late as well. The key for him all year has been to get ahead in the count early. He’s much more effective if he’s able to dictate the pitches he wants to throw as opposed to having to catch up in counts.

Whether or not Matusz is a serious contender for Comeback Player of the Year is another story. I think that Oriole fans are just happy to see him playing well and more importantly changing the Orioles’ fortunes a bit yesterday. However if that kind of play continues throughout the summer he will be a serious candidate for the award. Time will tell, but he’s certainly playing well enough for it to be mentioned…in early June.

Orioles trade for Pearce: Prior to yesterday’s game the Orioles completed a trade with the New York Yankees in which they obtained 1B/OF Steve Pearce for cash considerations. Pearce had been playing for triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and was hitting .321 with 11 homers in 52 games thus far this year. The Orioles have brought Pearce right up to the majors and put him on the 25-man roster, designating Bill Hall for assignment once again. It’s unclear when and how Pearce will get into a game, however he’s on the bench and available to play.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

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