Forty-seven days since he last faced a major league hitter, Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz will take the mound Tuesday night at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with a lot more confidence in his health and his ability to get big league hitters out.
"I feel really good about it," said Matusz, who will be officially recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before Tuesday's game. "My last three starts have been excellent. I've been able to get in a nice, consistent groove and feel confidence about all my pitches and have a good idea of what I'm doing out there. I'm really looking forward going into my start tomorrow, especially coming off a bunch of good outings down there, and being able to keep my groove going."
Matusz, the 24-year-old who broke spring training camp as the Orioles' No. 2 starter before a strained left intercostal muscle sent him to the disabled list, went 2-3 with a 3.62 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Norfolk after his June 30 demotion. That came on the same night he allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and a walk over 31/3 innings in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Camden Yards.
That shaky start left him 1-4 with an 8.77 ERA in six big league outings this season.
"Brian's a guy that's capable of doing a lot of things well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I just want to see where he is compared to where he was when he left. Lot of good things being said about him, and he seems to have a good look in his eye and feels good physically. He seems to have a lot of challenges that he had behind him. So we'll see, but it's still a big jump."
With Norfolk, Matusz went back to his old mechanics and worked on building arm strength and getting into better physical condition. The results weren't immediate, but in his past three starts for the Tides, he allowed just four earned runs in 23 innings, good for a 1.57 ERA.
On Thursday against Lehigh Valley, Matusz pitched a shutout, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out eight. He threw 105 pitches, 78 for strikes. His fastball velocity was consistently 88-89 mph and topped out at 91.
"When I was up here, I was really cutting balls off and coming across the zone and not being able to get pitches down," Matusz said. "All four of my pitches, I've been able to keep down at the knees. I've really been able to mix it up and have consistency throwing every pitch whenever I need to. That's what I have been able to do in the past, so it feels good."
While in the big leagues this season, Matusz's average fastball was 86.7 mph, down more than 3 mph from 2010 and nearly 5 mph from 2009.
Matusz's surprising struggles spurred questions about everything from his offseason preparation to his relationship with former pitching coach Mark Connor and current one Rick Adair to whether he might be pitching hurt. However, Matusz is ready to put it all behind him and salvage what to this point has been a miserable season.
"It's been a tough year, going through a lot of different scenarios, but I definitely feel prepared and feel good about my health physically and confident going into the start tomorrow," Matusz said. "Tomorrow is my only focus, and getting myself back into this level, facing big league hitters."
Shoulder surgery for Klein
Dan Klein, the Orioles' third-round pick last year and one of the organization's top pitching prospects, will have season-ending surgery Tuesday on his right shoulder. The decision came after the 23-year-old reliever met with renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum on Monday in California. Yocum will perform the surgery.
It's too early to know how long Klein will be out as it depends largely on how much damage Yocum finds during the surgery. Klein was diagnosed with a SLAP tear in his labrum in mid-June, but Yocum and the club want to make sure he's not dealing with more issues.
"In all likelihood, we'll have him right back in Sarasota depending on how the surgery goes," Orioles director of player development John Stockstill said. "We'll start a rehab program, and hopefully he'll be ready for next year. But we won't have a timetable until we know how extensive the surgery is."
Klein was a combined 3-1 with a 1.11 ERA between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, allowing 23 hits and six walks while striking out 37 batters in 321/3 innings. He last pitched June 1, when he was shut down with shoulder tendinitis.
Klein consulted with Yocum and Orioles team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens in mid-June, and the decision was made for him to rehabilitate the injury rather than have surgery. However, he recently tried to resume throwing and still felt pain and discomfort, leading him to reconsider.
He has a history of shoulder problems dating to his days at UCLA. He missed part of his freshman year and his entire sophomore season with a shoulder injury that required exploratory surgery in 2009.
Klein was the Bruins' closer for the 2010 season, but the Orioles drafted him with the hopes of making him a starter. However, they were using him in relief in his first full pro season because they wanted to limit his innings and appearances.
Hot-hitting Hardy honored
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy was recognized as the American League Player of the Week for the period ending Sunday.
Hardy, the 28-year-old whom the Orioles acquired from the Minnesota Twins in December, batted .323 (10-for-31) with two doubles, four homers, six runs and a league-leading 10 RBIs in seven games last week.
It's his first career AL Player of the Week award. He is the second Oriole to win the award in the past month — outfielder Nick Markakis was honored for the period ending July 18 — and the first Orioles shortstop to receive such recognition since Miguel Tejada in 2006.
Around the horn
Second baseman Brian Roberts will see concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Showalter said Roberts has made progress recently. … Mark Reynolds got his seventh start at first base Monday night; Josh Bell started at third. Chris Davis was held out of the starting lineup because a tough lefty (Gio Gonzalez) was pitching for Oakland and Davis is having recurring right shoulder soreness. A CT scan on Bell's left side didn't reveal anything of concern. … Norfolk right-hander Rick VandenHurk struck out 13 in six scoreless innings in Game 1 of Norfolk's doubleheader. … Minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson took over Orioles bullpen coach duties. … High-A Frederick closer Sean Gleason was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, and left-handed pitcher Ashur Tolliver was promoted to Frederick from Low-A Delmarva.