For much of the season, Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz has tried to put a positive spin on his disastrous year, promising to work hard and attempt to turn around 2011 while he still could.
The Orioles' 10-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Sunday was Matusz's last chance of the year, and he walked away with another rough outcome, allowing six runs, including two homers, in five innings pitched.
Afterward, the 24-year-old left-hander reflected on his 2011, which included a protracted spring due to minor health issues and then an intercostal muscle strain that basically cost him two months.
"It's been the hardest year of my life, that's for sure," said Matusz (1-9), who has lost nine straight decisions dating back to his only win, June 6, in his second start.
"Coming out with the injury from the get-go and trying to come back. Being demoted. Working really hard to get myself back up here and not having the success that I wanted to. But I feel like over the last couple months I've really worked hard. I've made a lot of improvements to where today I felt good on the mound."
On Sunday, Matusz gave up seven hits and three walks while striking out five batters. Five of the six runs scored on home runs -- a two-run shot by Miguel Cabrera in the first and a three-run homer by Victor Martinez on a hanging curveball in the fifth.
The other run scored in the third, when Matusz allowed two hits and two walks but wiggled out of further damage by getting Martinez to ground into a double play with the bases loaded. The Orioles' bullpen allowed four more runs on two homers: Brad Bergesen served up a three-run home run to Don Kelly in the sixth, and Jhonny Peralta hit a solo shot in the eighth against Chris Jakubauskas.
"It's a work in progress," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Matusz. "I fully expect Brian to be a good option for us next year. I think he'll go home and ... he'll figure it out. He's got a lot of things going on that he's doing right. He's just not able to get a return for it right now on the mound."
The Orioles felt that Matusz, who won his final six decisions of 2010, returned this spring not physically prepared for the rigors of a full season and not mentally prepared for a change in pitching coaches from Rick Kranitz to Mark Connor and Rick Adair.
Once he returned from injury, his velocity tumbled and so did his confidence. He has posted a 13.03 ERA in his past 10 starts -- and allowed at least four earned runs in each one. His season ERA sits at 10.69, the highest in baseball history for someone who has made at least 10 starts.
Matusz, who has started 12 games in 2011, surpassed the mark set by two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, who had a 10.64 ERA as a 23-year-old with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000.
"For me, I just got to continue getting stronger and healthier and just being able to fine tune my pitches," he said. "I haven't really thought too much about how much time I am going to take off. But I'm going to use that time to mentally clear my head. But I don't want to take time off working out, I want to continue getting stronger and keep at that from the get-go."
Orioles catcher Craig Tatum said he noticed more crispness in Matusz's off-speed pitches Sunday, especially his changeup. And his fastball velocity was consistently between 89 and 92 mph, a jump from the mid-80s earlier this season.
"His stuff is there -- he's just got to start believing in it," said Tatum, who had a RBI single in the Orioles' three-run third. "Even though the results weren't there today, I thought he definitely went in the right direction. What was it? Two bad pitches cost him five runs. When you are going good, sometimes that doesn't happen."
Showalter's Sunday afternoon lineup contained just three players from the club's Opening Day roster and only one who started that day, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. Showalter rested most of his big guns on a day game after a night game -- but it's no coincidence that they all had the day off before the season's final, three-game series this week against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards that could help decide the American League wild-card race.
Showalter talked to Guerrero on Saturday night about possibly getting the day off, but the veteran wanted a shot at history Sunday afternoon. With 2,586 hits, the 36-year-old is tied with Julio Franco for the most major league hits by a Dominican Republic-born player.
Guerrero went hitless with four groundouts on Sunday. He'll go for the record Monday at Camden Yards. There was a big moment for an Orioles player in the fifth, however, when rookie shortstop Pedro Florimon hit a two-run double for his first big league hit.
Florimon "was real excited about it. I think we are as excited as he is," Showalter said. "We were hoping to get one more there with Vlady, but the good news is hopefully we'll be able to get it done at home."
The Orioles (67-92) split the four-game series with the American League Central champion Tigers (92-67) and finished their final road trip 5-3.
Three more games, and the Orioles will put their 14th consecutive losing campaign behind them. That can't come soon enough for Matusz.
"I'll take everything that I've learned this year into my offseason," said Matusz, the club's first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2008. "A lot of motivation for me to get better and fine-tune some things. It hasn't been a fun year, that's for sure. Just able to learn from all the mistakes and never forget this feeling."
NOTES: Nolan Reimold hit his 13th homer of the season, a three-run, 434-foot missile to deep center, in the eighth. ... The Orioles' rotation for the final home series of the season will be: Tommy Hunter today, Zach Britton on Tuesday and Alfredo Simon on Wednesday. The Boston Red Sox will use Josh Beckett on Monday, former Oriole Erik Bedard on Tuesday and are undecided on Wednesday. It's possible, if the wild card has not been decided, that Boston lefty Jon Lester will pitch on short rest Wednesday. ... Matt Angle's homer on Saturday night was the third time this season an Oriole has hit his first home run. Pitcher Zach Britton and infielder Blake Davis also did it. Florimon became the eighth Oriole to get his first big league hit this season. ... Cabrera, Detroit's slugger, left the game in the eighth because of lightheadedness. ... Right-hander Jake Arrieta and his wife had their first child, a boy, Austin, on Sunday in Texas.
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