September 29, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz (17) pitches in the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Red Sox 4 - 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: A harbinger?

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Baltimore Orioles fans are in for a bit of a treat in 2013, as the Florida Grapefruit League schedule will open up on February 23rd as opposed to later in March due to the World Baseball Classic. With that in mind, I went back and reviewed my thoughts immediately following the first spring training game of 2012. First off, I was reminded of the fact that I had forgotten to save my work that night, and I had to rush to publish a new column the next morning! The Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates that night 10-3, and they looked extremely inauspicious in doing so. Brian Matusz got the start and pitched two innings, but didn’t look particularly comfortable:

I’d like to see Brian Matusz command his pitches a little better than he did last night. I was very pleased with his velocity (low 90′s for the most part), however he needs to locate his pitches better if he’s going to continue to pitch at the big league level.

As you saw, I also noticed that the Orioles were a bit sloppy at the plate and in the field in that first spring training game that night:

…The Orioles also seemed to have some timing issues at the plate and in the field, with many batters flailing at bad pitches and double-play balls being bobbled. Getting those kinds of kinks out is why we play these spring training games. If the Pirates seemed to have an answer for everything the Orioles threw at them, it’s worth mentioning that this was their third Grapefruit League game, while it was the Orioles’ first.

Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

My Dad asked me after the game that night whether or not that was the type of effort that we could expect once the regular season came. While I was a bit taken back by the seven-run loss, my response wasno. However Matusz ended up battling throughout spring training and ultimately earned the #5 starter slot on the roster. Some of his command issues lingered, and he was ultimately sent to the bullpen. At one point during the season I remember telling someone that Matusz would probably make a good lefty reliever out of the pen, and that’s effectively how the Orioles used him in the end of the season and in the playoffs.

With regard to the timing issues at the plate, I’ll dust off a phrase that I recall using throughout the first part of spring training on several occasions last year:hitters are behind pitchers. Keep in mind that pitchers (and catchers) report a week prior to position players, and therefore they have an extra week of training. So it’s natural for the hitters to be a bit behind the pitchers (in the first part of spring training that is) for a time. I also refered to a few routine plays in the infield that were botched by the Orioles; J.J. Hardy ended up being a gold glove shortstop, so again chalk that up to it being the first game.

Spring training may or not be a harbinger to how things fall in the regular season. Perhaps some of Matusz’s command issues were foreseen in that game, however throughout spring training we also saw the same propensity to get big outs when necessary in games that was vital in the end of the season. However I did get one major thing right in that I said to my father that this kind of game would not be what fans should expect throughout the year!

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