Baltimore Orioles: Brian Matusz Is Back On The Mound As A Duck

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 15: Pitcher Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles throws a pitch during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 15, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 15: Pitcher Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles throws a pitch during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 15, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images) /

Remember Brian Matusz? The former Baltimore Orioles pitcher is back on the mound.

It was just supposed to be a quick Google search during my lunch break on Tuesday afternoon. A co-worker asked me about a guy we both enjoyed watching during his college summer ball days years ago for the local team in town, I looked him up, it turned into two hours of looking up random baseball players from yesteryear, mostly former Baltimore Orioles who made quick appearances at Camden Yards and then seemed to disappear.

I find myself going down this same rabbit hole multiple times a year and every single time, I find out something new and interesting. Did you know that former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz is still climbing the bump? Surprisingly, he is as a member of the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

You might remember Matusz and his time in Birdland, if you haven’t blocked him from your memory. Drafted fourth overall back in 2008, right after Tim Beckham, Pedro Alvarez, and Eric Hosmer, Matusz is part of a long list of first-round picks who failed to cut it at the major league level for the Baltimore Orioles. Once heralded as a front-line starter with four major league quality pitches who would likely sit atop a major league rotation for many years, Matusz now finds himself pitching wherever he can to satisfy his “itch.”

Spending his first four years in the big leagues as a starter, Matusz went 21-33 with an ERA north of 5.50. After going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and finishing fifth in the 2010 Rookie of the Year race, Matusz went 1-9 in 2011, posting a 10.69 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, and 3.3 HR/9 IP rate in 12 starts. By the end of 2012, he found himself in the bullpen where the Orioles did see a bit of production.

In 211 games out of the pen, Matusz recorded a 3.47 ERA and struck out 9.4 hitters/9 IP, well above his 7.1/9 IP mark as a starting pitcher. A career-high 10.3 K/9 IP and career-low 2.94 ERA across 58 games highlighted his dominant 2015 season before things quickly unraveled. After giving up eight runs on 11 hits and walking seven in six innings of work, Matusz was traded to the Atlanta Braves, who released the relief pitcher one week later. The trade essentially involved Atlanta taking on the salary of Matusz in exchange for Baltimore’s Competitive Balance draft pick (76th overall.).

Atlanta would use that pick to draft catcher Brett Cumberland who is now with the Orioles, coming over in the Kevin Gausman trade at last year’s trade deadline. It’s always weird how things work out in baseball.

Matusz didn’t remain a free agent very long, signing with the Chicago Cubs two weeks after his release from Atlanta. Unfortunately, he made just one appearance with Chicago, giving up six runs on six hits (three home runs) in three innings. He became a free agent again after the 2016 season, signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but struggled to find his footing in Triple-A and was eventually released.

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Matusz stepped away from the game in 2018 and recently discussed why with Newsday’s Jordan Lauterbach,

"“There was no real reason. I just took a break,” said Matusz, 32, who made seven playoff appearances with Baltimore in 2012 and 2014. “Having that layoff was strange .  .  .   It was nice to take a break, really my first from baseball in my entire life. To take that time and relax, play golf, and chill. But I started getting that itch and wanted to play ball again.”"

As pointed out in the piece above, Matusz trained in Mexico, making an unsuccessful start in the Mexican League, before signing with the Long Island Ducks. He made his first start with the Ducks a few days ago, giving up one earned on three hits across four innings. He walked three and struck out one.

Baltimore Orioles fans are familiar with many names on this Long Island roster, including another former first-round pick in pitcher Pedro Beato (2006, 32nd overall), outfielder D’Arby Myers (spent 2018 with the Bowie Baysox and Norfolk Tides, .274/.313/.329 in 55 games), and outfielder/coach Lew Ford. Remember Ford from the 2012 season? After spending five years out of the majors, the Orioles signed the then 35-year-old outfielder who went on to appear in 25 games and contribute a few timely moments during a memorable 2012 run for the O’s. Ford, now 42, continues to rake in the Atlantic League and serve as the team’s hitting coach.

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While no major league team is likely to give Brian Matusz another chance at 32 years of age, I’m glad he’s still hanging around and playing the game. Whether he continues in the independent ranks or tries his hand again in Mexico, I wish him the best of luck!