Struggling left-hander Brian Matusz acknowledged today that he wasn’t “mentally prepared” for the start of the season and he lost confidence in himself after being asked to make mechanical changes that he wasn’t comfortable making.
“Obviously, coming in not prepared is pretty clear to everyone,” said Matusz in a phone interview a day after he allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks in Triple-A Norfolk’s loss to Toledo. “It wasn’t necessarily that I wasn’t physically prepared, but I wasn’t mentally prepared. I was working with two pitching coaches that I didn’t know and they wanted to change things I’ve done for my whole life. Rick Adair and Mark Connor had great intentions of helping us young guys get better. That was the goal, that was the plan. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared to make that happen. Right now, I’m trying to find myself, getting back to what has made me successful through my entire life.”
Matusz, the 24-year-old who was supposed to pitch near the top of the Orioles’ rotation for years to come, is 0-3 with a 4.83 ERA in six starts for the Tides, having allowed 35 hits and 14 walks in 31 2/3 innings. But of bigger concern is scouts who have watched Matusz since his demotion have indicated that his stuff isn’t any better than it was earlier this season when he was getting knocked around in the big leagues. Relying on a fastball that has been in the mid to high 80’s pretty much all season and spotty command, Matusz had an 8.77 ERA in six big league starts when he was demoted June 30.
Those numbers have led to questions about how hard Matusz worked this offseason – Oriole officials haven’t publicly questioned the pitcher but some in the organization are clearly disenchanted by the pitcher’s offseason preparation - and speculation that he is injured. Matusz missed two months with a strained left intercostal muscle, and he also had a sporadic spring after having a wart removed and gettg drilled in the left arm by a comebacker.
Matusz, however, said that he felt good coming into the spring, and his conditioning problems started when he suffered the lintercostal strain and was shut down from doing physical activities. After working out at Athletes Performance the past two offseasons, Matusz did say that he has decided to spend this coming offseason, training with former Oriole and noted fitness buff Brady Anderson.
“My first outing in spring training, I was 90 to 92 [miles an hour]. My velocity was there,” said Matusz, whose playing weight is down about 10 pounds from where he pitched at last season. He admitted that he needs to do a better job of getting stronger and maintaining his weight. “Ever since then, it hasn’t been there. It was all mental. It was feeling that I wasn’t good enough at the time and I had to change everything I had in order to supposedly get better. My confidence was taken away. It was beaten down. Then, I ended up being hurt and it’s just been a fight to get it back.
“What I need is to go out every five days and get better, and work on my delivery where it’s locked down to where I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I just have to continue to grind it out and get better every five days. That’s the ultimate goal. Getting shut down would serve no purpose. I’m not hurt, there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to comment too much on what he thinks has caused Matusz’s disastrous season, but he did defend the mechanical changes that Adair and Connor asked him to make. That included quickening up his delivery so he was harder to steal off of, and getting him on a straighter path to home plate so he wasn’t throwing across his body as much.
“It’s all a learning experience and not many people come here at first and immediately produce,” Showalter said. “Brian has the ability to be a good pitcher here and everyone is trying to figure that out. Generally, if coaches see something that is going to be a challenge for somebody going forward, they try to fix it, and you listen to people who have a long track record of success in the big leagues.”
Despite scouts continued questioning of his stuff and the uneven numbers that he continues to put up, Matusz maintains that he’s on the right track.
“It’s the toughest year of my life so far,” he said. “From the get go in spring training, things didn’t seem to fall my way. Having the wart removed, getting the liner off my arm, and then the [intercostal] strain. Failure is not something that I’ve experienced in the past. It hasn’t happened for me.
“All the Orioles fans, teammates, coaches, they had high expectations for me and not being able to follow through on it has been tough. I don’t feel good about it, but what’s happened in the past is not something I can do anything about. I feel better every day I go out there. I know the numbers haven’t showed it in the box score, but I know that I’m on the right track, the right routine. It will come back. Things like that just don’t go away.”