Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz’s five-inning, one-run outing on Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers continues to make this spring battle for the No. 5 rotation spot tight with less than two weeks to go in big league camp.
On Tuesday, Matusz was very aggressive in pounding the strike zone. Both Matusz and Buck Showalter agreed that Matusz probably was too aggressive and needed to try to bury a couple more sliders while ahead in the count to keep hitters off balance.
Another interesting aspect of Matusz’s success is his 4.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio (13 strikeouts, 3 walks) this spring.
“[That’s] very important, being able to prevent free bases,” Matusz said. “The strikeouts will come with being able to make quality pitches. The walks are the big thing. To be able to let the defense play, especially with the guys we have back there. We have a solid defense, so just being able to attack the zone and working ahead in the count.”
His outing against the Red Sox was his best of the spring yet. It wasn’t as dominating as his last start against the Twins, in which he struck out seven and threw four hitless innings, but he was able to get key outs in critical times -- something he struggled to do sometimes as a starter last season. Five of the first nine Boston runners reached base on Matusz, but he was able to hold the Red Sox to one run and then began to settle in a bit. Then he got out of a fifth-inning jam with runners at the corners with one out, which was the difference between a solid five-inning outing and a so-so 4 1/3.
After the game, Showalter said something pretty interesting. While everyone might believe that Matusz’s late-season success in the bullpen means it makes sense to have him open the season as a reliever, Showalter said he’s not assuming Matusz will have the same success there this season.
“It’s not a given,” Showalter said. “I’ll be frank with you that if he hadn’t had the success in the bullpen, we probably wouldn’t be having this decision. It bodes well for him as far as his ability to make this club in some form. It does have something to do with some of the thinking.
“I do not look at it as a bird in the hand that he’s going to be as successful in the bullpen as he was last year. He’s done nothing to make be think he wouldn’t be, but I think this is the time of the year when you get in a lot of trouble if you assume something just because it happened last year.”
-- Right-hander Kevin Gausman continues to shine in his first big league camp. His two scoreless relief innings on Tuesday might be the last time we see him before he’s optioned to minor league camp, but he’s done nothing but raise his stock both inside and outside the organization.
In fact, Showalter joked that pitching coach Rick Adair proposed a scenario in which Gausman would make the team as a reliever so the Orioles could limit his innings early before sending him to the minors to start to ensure that he’d have enough innings left to help the big league club come September.
Adair was joking, Showalter said, but it was an interesting thought, and goes to show Gausman might be in the big-league conversation sooner than later. Gausman’s changeup is a difference maker, and if he improves his slider and knows when to throw it, he’s going to be a big-league contributor soon.
"This guy’s pitched in front of 7-10,000 people a night at LSU,” Showalter said Tuesday. “This isn’t new, the pressure part of it. He’s handles himself well here. He’s able to slow them down some. He’s got stuff to slow them down and I think it’s a good experience for him. He’s finding out that people can turn a bullet around up here. It’s his location and his ability to slow them then, and he has the pitch to do it. I think that’s as exciting as the stuff he features; he’s got the ability to grasp secondary pitches at a young age."
-- While Brian Roberts continues to remain healthy and play well this spring -- he was 1-for-3 with a RBI, a run scored and two stolen bases on Tuesday -- I think his body language is the most telling indicator that this spring is much different than last year’s.
Roberts seems to be more confident in getting back to his past form this year. Last year, there was very little certainty to his future, but I think he’s getting to the point where he really believes he can be the impact player he was. It’s cliché, but there really is a different look in his eyes.
“I think if I get 600 at-bats, I'll do the same things I always did,” Roberts said. “I'm not a different player, I just missed a couple years. I really believe that you'll see, hopefully if I get that, the same numbers and stats that I always have."
-- The Orioles continue to be intrigued by right-hander Daniel McCutchen’s new lower arm slot. Make no mistake, he’s not going to make the team out of camp at this point, but he might have saved his career to some degree.
McCutchen opened the spring with three scoreless outings, but was one of the most anonymous guys in camp because of the 29-pitcher logjam here. After he had a rough five-run outing on March 7 against Toronto, the Orioles decided to tinker with his delivery. He worked one inning in a simulated game and struggled with his control, but he has improved since.
On Tuesday, he showed off a pretty good arsenal of a low 90s fastball, a low 80s changeup and a low 80s slider. If he continues to get comfortable with that combination, that bodes well for his future. He struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save.