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If you just look at the pitching line, it's hard to get too excited about Brian Matusz's return engagement on Tuesday night in Oakland. He gave up six runs on eight hits and took another loss, which may seem consistent with what he was doing when he was sent back to the minor leagues.

Obviously, time will tell, but there were signs of improvement last night. He threw more than 100 pitches, went fairly deep into the game and seemed to have pretty good command of his fastball. His breaking stuff was crisp for much of the evening, though he got hurt deep on a couple of occasions when he missed with his changeup.

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He was a little unlucky, too. Several of those eight hits were soft flies that barely cleared the infield.

His velocity is up modestly. There were some 91-mph fastballs, according to the radar reading that posts in the MASN scorebox. That's a step forward. He still has a couple miles to go to get back to where he was at his best, but the progress is the thing. He clearly has gotten stronger during his minor league exile.

Does that mean he'll come back next spring throwing 94 and pitching the way he did the final two months of 2010? That's a lot to ask, but Tuesday night's performance did not dash the hope that he find himself and claim a regular place in the 2012 rotation.

The Orioles need a lot of good things to happen for this pitching staff to rise from the ashes of the past few months. Getting Matusz back to where he once belonged would be a big step in that direction.

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