On the one-year anniversary of Brian Matusz agreeing to terms with the Orioles after they made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, the left-hander was on the mound at Camden Yards against one of baseball's best lineups and opposite one of the game's best pitchers.
Is it all too much too soon?
For most of his outing Saturday night, the answer was no. But in a disastrous third inning, Matusz looked very much like a 22-year-old making his third major league start. The Los Angeles Angels benefited from three walks to score five times in the third, giving ace John Lackey more support than he needed in a 5-1 victory over the Orioles in front of an announced 28,770 at Camden Yards.
"I was trying to nibble too much instead of going after guys," said Matusz, who fell to 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA and has lost consecutive decisions for the first time in his professional career. "I felt like I had good command today for the most part, except for my three walks came in that inning. I felt like the strike zone did get smaller. Anytime you walk three guys in one inning, it's not going to turn out well. A hit here, a hit there, and things fell apart a little bit."
Matusz steadied himself after the rocky third inning to pitch into the sixth, allowing five runs (four earned) on 11 hits and three walks. It might have been good enough on another day, but not with Lackey allowing just one earned run over seven innings.
A day after the Orioles posted season highs in runs (16) and hits (19), tied a franchise record with nine doubles among 12 extra-base hits, and watched Felix Pie register the fourth cycle in franchise history, they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 base runners.
The Orioles (48-68) have scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their 28 games since the All-Star break and are 1-14 in those contests. Nick Markakis, who reached base for a career-high 35th straight game, drove in the Orioles' only run with an RBI double in the third after Adam Jones had tripled. But Lackey allowed nothing else over seven innings, limiting the Orioles to seven hits and one walk while striking out six. The veteran right-hander has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his past 10 starts.
"We needed a couple hits to get us back in it and had some good at-bats but they didn't fall," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "So that's that."
Matusz, who was drafted by the Angels in the fourth round in 2005 but chose to attend the University of San Diego, looked sharp through the first two innings.
But after striking out catcher Jeff Mathis to start the third, his control abandoned him, and plate umpire Larry Vanover didn't give the rookie a few calls on borderline pitches. He walked three of four hitters at one point, including Vladimir Guerrero to bring in a run.
"I think Matusz competes," Trembley said. "I think one pitch in a bad inning coulda, mighta, shoulda, woulda, whatever, made a difference in that inning. ... That's the umpire's opinion that he lost the strike zone for a couple guys."
Also in the inning, Juan Rivera hit a two-run single that was mishandled by center fielder Adam Jones, Howie Kendrick drove in a run with a groundout, and Robb Quinlan brought home the Angels' fifth run with a single.
With Mark Hendrickson warming in the bullpen, it appeared that Matusz was in jeopardy of not making it out of the third inning for a second straight start, but he got Gary Matthews Jr., the ninth Angel to bat in the frame, to ground out.
"His first two innings, you saw all his stuff," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Even after we got the five runs, he pitched out of trouble. We were very impressed with him. Good life on his fastball, terrific changeup, he was dropping his breaking ball under some right-handed swings and you can see why we liked him a couple of years ago when we drafted him and obviously why Baltimore has him. He's got a bright future."
Matusz showed his mettle in the sixth after giving up back-to-back bloop singles. After Erick Aybar's sacrifice bunt, he struck out Bobby Abreu for the third time before Cla Meredith was summoned to get the final out of the inning.
"He threw a terrific game," Jones said. "It was just that one inning."
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