By Matt Vensel
10:30 AM EDT, June 27, 2011
Brian Matusz got slapped around again on Saturday night, allowing nine hits, three homers and six earned runs before manager Buck Showalter had seen enough and removed the Orioles starter in the fifth inning. In his past three outings -- all Orioles losses -- the 24-year-old left-hander has a 15.58 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. Yikes.
After the 10-5 loss to the Reds, Matusz said he “took a lot from this outing,” and he thought he threw good pitches and had a solid plan of attack throughout the game. Both he and Showalter talked about the drop in Matusz’s velocity, the most concerning aspect of his turbulent season, and though Matusz believes it’s just a matter of building up his arm strength, Showalter isn’t so sure that he will get his old fastball back.
"I think you've got to proceed like it might not [return]," Showalter said of Matusz’ velocity. "It's not just five starts. He pitched in the spring, he pitched in rehab starts. It's more than that. It's a pretty large sampling."
The plan right now is to keep Matusz in the major leagues, but the Orioles can’t afford to give away a game every five days, especially with Jake Arrieta missing starts due to inflammation in his right elbow and with the team trying to limit the innings of rookie starter Zach Britton throughout the rest of the summer.
More importantly, Matusz is a big piece of the long-term puzzle. He isn’t penciled in for the front half of the rotation for the next five years; the Orioles used a magic marker to scribble him in there. All options should be considered to help Matusz get his velocity back up, even if they have to shut him down until 2012.
Of course, that would leave a big hole in the Orioles rotation. Chris Jakubauskas has done as well as you could ask while filling in as the fifth starter, but I’m not sure you can rely on him to be a productive starter from now until September. Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Alfredo Simon are also options for the rotation if the plan for Matusz gets scrapped in the next couple of weeks.
Maybe Matusz will learn to adapt and work with what he’s got. Or maybe he will miraculously -- relatively speaking, of course -- be able to add a couple of MPHs to his fading fastball. If he can't do either, the Orioles will have to make some tough decisions on what to do with their young starter for the rest of the summer.
Your turn: How concerned are you about Matusz’s decreased velocity -- is it a Code Red yet? -- and how should the Orioles proceed with the 24-year-old's valuable left arm?
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