June 2, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz (17) throws a pitch in the first inOrioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz throws a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

No late movement equals no win for the Orioles

I noticed something about Brian Matusz’s pitches in yesterday’s 6-2 loss to Cleveland, and it’s the same thing I’ve been noticing about Oriole pitchers for the past couple of weeks. There was very little pizazz on his pitches. What’s pizazz? I suppose it could mean any variation of things, however for these purposes it’s referring to late movement on pitches. Matusz’s pitches were sailing straight and high into the strike zone yesterday, ripe for the picking by Cleveland hitters. Matusz’s final line: 4 IP, 7 H, 5 R (4 earned), 3 BB, 2 K. In the words of former Washington Redskins’ coach Steve Spurrier, “…not too good.” As a result, Matusz was sent down to triple-A Norfolk following yesterday’s game. In a corresponding roster move the Orioles recalled reliever Steve Johnson, who will join the team today in Seattle. (This is an extra special kind of promotion, as Johnson is the son of former Oriole and current MASN/WBAL analyst Dave Johnson.)

June 2, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz (17) throws a pitch in the first inOrioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz throws a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIREThere was a time when I was very impressed with the late movement that Matusz was able to employ on the ball. I’m not exactly sure where that went or what happened to it, however it’s something that’s necessary to pitch at this level. Shelley Duncan opened the second inning with a long home run to left field, and Cleveland never really looked back. In fairness to Matusz, the defense behind him was pretty poor all day long (and it has been for quite some time). I’m not even talking strictly errors committed; on Duncan’s next at-bat Ryan Flaherty seemed to take a long route to what ended up being a double, giving Cleveland an extra base. Casey Kotchman advanced to third on Ronnie Paulino’s passed ball (his first of two on the day), and he later scored on Lou Marson’s sacrifice fly. However the icing on the cake was that the routine pop up was dropped by right fielder Chris Davis, who threw out Jason Donald at second base (scored as a sac fly plus a fielder’s choice).

While four of the runs charged to Matusz were earned, it’s fair to say that aside from the two solo homers all of them had help from the Orioles’ defensive lapses. You can’t win games at any level and make errors and mental mistakes (even ones that don’t show up on the scorecard). Flaherty made the same mistake later in the game on a double that ended up being harmless in terms of a run crossing the plate; he had trouble all day on balls hit to the center field side of his area. However when mistakes and lapses are made, the pitcher is still charged with getting the team out of the jam. Matusz couldn’t help his own cause, which is why he was chased early and part of why he’s on his way back to Norfolk. If he can regain the late movement on his pitches, I feel that he can once again be a fruitful starter in this league. At the tail end of his outing yesterday he actually got a couple of guys out, but only with his off speed pitches (which have been outstanding). However as MASN/WBAL analyst and former Oriole Dave Johnson has said on occasion, if you can’t throw a big league fastball you’re not going to make it at this level. Matusz has ceased to be able to do that.

If there was a silver lining to this game it would have to be Miguel Gonzalez, who was called up from Norfolk before the game. Gonzalez pitched 4.1 innings of relief and gave up one run on four hits. The Orioles are really struggling with pitching at the moment; starters aren’t going deep into games, and that’s begun to trickle down to the bullpen due to the fact that they’re suddenly being used more often. Gonzalez was a breath of fresh air, and he also showed an ability to be successful with guys on base.

The Orioles have just completed a homestand that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, and now they hit the road to the west coast. Unfortunately for them they weren’t given the luxury of a day off to travel to Seattle, so they take on the Mariner’s tonight at 10:10 PM. Jason Hammel will try to be the Orioles’ stopper as he takes to the mound against Seattle’s Hisashi Iwaguma. While Iwaguma has a 1-1 record, he’s making his first major league start (as a spot starter out of the ‘pen) tonight. He has a 4.75 ERA, and given that he’s a reliever he might be a guy that Oriole bats could get to early on. He was a starter previously in Japan, but never in MLB. The Orioles need to nip this losing streak in the bud if they’re going to be competitive for the remainder of the season. That effort starts tonight.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

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