The consensus in the Orioles’ clubhouse after Friday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels is that Brian Matusz is making strides – his slider is sharper, he’s throwing his fastball in the low 90s, his command is improving some.
Here’s what manager Buck Showalter had to say: “I thought he was better. A little better each time he has pitched since the first one. A little crisper, the command was a little better. It got away from him there a little bit at the end.”
And here’s what Matusz had to say: “I definitely made some improvements in this start over the last. Threw some nice changeups and some nice sliders down in the zone and felt like I had pretty good command of the fastball today. I am just not putting it all together right now.”
Now here’s what I have to say: Results are what matter in the majors. And Matusz (six runs, four earned, 11 base runners, five innings) again did not provide satisfactory results – the 12th time in 13 starts that he has lost. The Orioles need to do something to help this kid before he is beyond repair. And, in my opinion, that’s sending him down – all the way down. Rebuild him instead of championing incremental improvements.
Yes, the Orioles were shoddy defensively on Friday night and plate umpire Dale Scott’s strike zone wasn’t consistent. But Matusz also caught a few breaks. The Angels rocketed some pitches that found gloves. An error charged to Robert Andino, which ended up causing an unearned run, easily could have been scored a hit.
Matusz imploded in the sixth when he walked the leadoff batter, gave up an infield single and then walked a guy who was desperately trying to bunt. This is the second consecutive start in which he was on the precipice of having a solid outing and didn’t.
This is a kid who was the fourth overall pick in the draft. Who dominated in the last two months of 2010. Who was supposed to be key in the Orioles’ revival. Baby steps aren’t good enough. He hasn’t pitched 15 full innings in three starts. His ERA stands at 7.98.
To be fair, he has had three rough opponents in the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels – skipping the lesser Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. He could get the Blue Jays again or Showalter could push him back a day to get the more offensively challenged Oakland Athletics.
The good news for Matusz is there isn’t anyone waiting in the wings that clearly is ready for the prime time right now. So he’ll probably get a few more starts to right the ship. But that’s not what I’d do.
I’d send him to pitching guru Rick Peterson in Sarasota and say: “He’s yours. Fix him.” That’s not undermining Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. He has a whole staff he needs to handle. Let Peterson concentrate on Matusz and Matusz only for a few weeks – for as long as it takes. All the minor league affiliates have competent pitching coaches at each level, so let Peterson have at Matusz. If Peterson is as good as people say, this is a no-brainer.
And I wouldn’t bring him back until everyone is convinced – including Matusz – that he can succeed and stay in the majors. Drastic? Maybe. But the Blue Jays once did that with Roy Halladay and I’d say that turned out OK. Matusz has talent. He can turn it around. But it’s so hard to do that at this level.
Who replaces Matusz in the Orioles’ rotation now? It doesn’t matter to me.
Priority No. 1 needs to be fixing Matusz for the future. Not getting him serviceable now for a likely second-division club. The fifth starter in 2012 is not nearly as important. Really, nothing right now is as important for the Orioles as getting Matusz right.