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Orioles notes and observations: Chen, Hunter, Matusz, Jones, WBC

Orioles’ lefty Wei-Yin Chen threw 51 pitches (33 strikes) Friday in an exhibition start against the Pittsburgh Pirates that lasted 2 1/3 innings. His fastball sat between 89 and 91 mph and with the exception of his command – especially his slider – he looked pretty solid for this time of year.

Toward the end of his interview with the local media, Chen said, “I feel it is going to be a good year for me.”

The sophomore campaign often is the roughest for pitchers, but Chen, who will be 28 in July, wasn’t a normal rookie last year and he won’t be a normal sophomore this season. He has never been intimidated by the level of competition, and he won’t be in 2013.
 
It took a lot of inner confidence for Chen to turn down pitching for Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) in the World Baseball Classic. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure coming from his homeland. But he wanted to concentrate on this upcoming season and working with Orioles’ pitching coach Rick Adair. And that should only help him as this season progresses.

Another positive development Friday was the performances of Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. The two are fighting for rotation spots, but more realistically could end up in the bullpen.

Hunter gave up one hit – which allowed a runner inherited from Chen to score -- but otherwise pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings, hitting 94 to 96 mph with his fastball. Hunter is out of options and he has too much talent to let go, so the Orioles will try to find a spot for him. I’ve said this before: Hunter should be left in the bullpen – no back and forth with the rotation – and I bet he has a terrific 2013.

Matusz was a shutdown reliever when he made the switch to the bullpen last season. There’s still some who believe he should get another shot to start this season – after yesterday’s outing, in which he allowed two hits and struck out two in two scoreless innings, the club had him throw another inning in the bullpen to keep him stretched out.

I’m not smart enough to know whether Matusz can return to the form that made him so promising as a rookie. Maybe he can. But there’s a sentiment that if he is not a starter, then taking him with the fourth pick overall in the 2008 draft was a waste.

I understand that line of thinking. But I don’t subscribe to it. It’s so hard to make – and stay – in the major leagues. That’s why the draft is a crapshoot. So if Matusz becomes a consistent, productive member of the pitching staff for years to come, no matter the role,that should be all that matters.

Center fielder Adam Jones went 0-for-3 with a walk in USA’s 5-2 loss to Mexico in Friday’s World Baseball Classic game. The real news for Orioles fans – and the Orioles – is that Jones, who bats mainly cleanup for his big league club, hit 8th on Friday.

I’m sure he doesn’t care; he’s just excited to play for his country. But I guarantee he will hear plenty of razzing from his Orioles’ teammates when he comes back to Sarasota for his diminished spot in the lineup.

And one last thing about razzing and the WBC: Orioles starter and Mexico native Miguel Gonzalez got an earful from his teammates on Friday afternoon after Mexico was upset by Italy in the first game Thursday night. Well, Gonzalez is going to have some fun Saturday now that his boys beat the mighty Americans.

He has a sombrero hanging off the side of his locker at Ed Smith Stadium – a present from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Have to think Gonzalez will be wearing that around the clubhouse for a few days.   

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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