Since coming off the disabled list early this month, left-hander Brian Matusz hasn't looked like the pitcher that stormed through the minors two years ago and gave Orioles' fans so much hope for the future.
That optimism has been replaced by a deflating combination of disappointment and consternation, feelings compounded Saturday in the Orioles' 10-5 drubbing by the Cincinnati Reds.
"This is a (24)-year old young man that has had some success in just about everything he's done pitching and finished up pretty good last year and he's had a lot of challenges health-wise this year for the first time in his career," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "So I try to keep that in mind. Obviously, it affects you physically, but sometimes mentally. He's strong enough. He'll fight through it and be better as a result of it."
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With Matusz unable to find consistency Saturday, the Orioles (34-40) returned to a season-worst six games under .500, while the Reds (40-38) won for just the third time in their last eight games.
The announced crowd of 38,976 witnessed a nine-homer night, tying for the second most home runs hit in one game in Camden Yards history. It was the first time this season that opposing teams have homered at least four times in a game. Only one run on Saturday did not come courtesy of the longball.
The Reds homered five times, including three off Matusz, who has now yielded seven in his last 13 1/3 innings. This from a pitcher who allowed just six home runs in 44 2/3 big-league innings as a rookie in 2009.
"It's a matter of being able to make better pitches at better times," said Matusz (1-3). "You can't let the big hitters hurt you and that's what I've done."
On Saturday, Matusz allowed six runs on nine hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings while striking out five in his third consecutive loss. In those three games, he has a 15.58 ERA while surrendering 20 hits, eight walks and six homers in 11 1/3 innings.
Matusz missed the first two months of the season with an intercostal muscle strain after having his spring training shortened by a wart condition on his pitching hand and a bruised forearm caused by a comebacker. He said he is still building arm strength and that's likely why his velocity has dropped precipitously. His fastball consistently was in the mid-to-high 80s on Saturday, leaving him little margin for error.
"Absolutely," Matusz said. "Not being able to pitch with 93, 94 (mph) like I have in the past, you got to be able to have a better plan and execute pitches better, especially with their big hitters."
Showalter was asked after the game whether Matusz would continue to work out his problems at the major-league level and the manager said, "That's what the plan is."
In May, the Orioles demoted starters Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen because Showalter said their performances weren't "good enough." Showalter was asked Saturday whether that time could come for Matusz.
"That would come with anybody, but I don't think that's in the best interest to have the manager sitting in here an hour or so after his outing, throwing it out there, so I'm not going there. But I think we all know," Showalter said. "We'll see what each day brings and what the options are, but last thing I want to do is start weighing on that when I'm sure Brian's a little down about the outing tonight."
After a scoreless first inning, Matusz couldn't consistently keep the ball in the park. He allowed a solo shot to Jonny Gomes in the second inning, and was victimized twice by reigning National League MVP Joey Votto.
Votto hit a three-run shot in the third, the 100th homer of his career, to give the Reds a 4-1 lead. Votto's two-run blast in the fifth broke a 4-4 tie and the Reds never trailed again.
"Bad location. Very bad locations to quality hitters," he said. "With Votto, there's not many guys in the league that will hit a 3-2 curveball like that from a left-hander over the left-field wall. It's got to be in a better location and I put myself in that situation to allow him to see so many pitches."
The Reds hit two more homers against reliever Brad Bergesen: a two-run shot by Scott Rolen in the seventh and a 442-foot missile by Drew Stubbs in the eighth. Brandon Phillips played small ball in that same inning with a RBI single for the Reds' 10th run.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead on an Adam Jones homer in the first, his 13th of the season, which tied Mark Reynolds for the team lead. It was the seventh straight game in which Jones has had at least one RBI.
The Orioles hit three more homers against Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo (7-6), who was far from effective — he gave up five runs on nine hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. But the Orioles went just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and are just 5-for-37 (.135 average) in those situations in their past four games. They did punish Arroyo's mistakes, though. The right-hander tied a career-high for most homers allowed in a game.
"You've seen it. Nine home runs," Jones said. "The damn ball was flying."
Arroyo surrendered a two-run homer in the third to Nick Markakis, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games — the longest by an Oriole this season. And then Matt Wieters tied the game in the fourth with a 398-foot solo blast to left center. It was Wieters' sixth homer of the year. J.J. Hardy added a parting shot in the bottom of the seventh, chasing Arroyo with his 10th homer of the season.
It was the fourth time in Camden Yards history that two teams have combined for nine home runs in one contest, the last coming on May 1, 2010 with the Boston Red Sox in town. The record is 11, set on July 1, 1994 with the California Angels.
The homer barrage wasn't the only unique occurrence on Saturday night.
Luke Scott, who went 1-for-4 with a double, took a curtain call during the game when the stadium video board wished him a happy 33rd birthday. Saturday also featured the return of Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman, who came off the disabled list Friday, and ended the game by striking out the side on 12 pitches. He twice hit 101 mph on the stadium radar gun, including on his final pitch that blew past Robert Andino.
"He's got a good arm. That's the understatement of the night," Showalter said. "I think everybody's curiosity was satisfied tonight."
Matusz, however, is the big mystery of this month for the Orioles. Will he return to form or will he need a stint in the minors to rekindle what made him such an important part of this club's future?
"As a hitter, you leave that to the pitching coach, the manager, people who make decisions on the pitchers. I'm not in that loop," Jones said. "But we know he's got good stuff. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."
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