BALTIMORE - It was the top of the seventh inning of the first game of the American League Division Series between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Brian Matusz stood on the mound and prepared to face Alex Rodriguez.
Matusz struck out Rodriguez swinging to preserve a 2-2 tie going into the bottom half of the inning. A sellout crowd at Camden Yards went wild as the the lefty set down the active home run leader.
It was quite a different experience than Matusz was used to.
Just three months earlier, those fans were unimpressed when he gave up five runs over four innings to the Cleveland Indians on July 1, falling to 5-10 on the season. He was sent down to Class AAA Norfolk after the game. It was Matusz's last start of 2012.
When Matusz returned to the big leagues in late August, he found himself in the bullpen as a reliever. It ended up being a change that benefited both Matusz and the Orioles.
"Every game was a learning process," Matusz said last month at Orioles FanFest. "It's something I had never done before in my career at any level."
Baltimore's 2008 first-round pick learned quickly. In 18 regular-season relief appearances, Matusz went 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 19 strikeouts.
Matusz pitched to a 1.93 ERA in six postseason relief appearances.
"It's nice to finish the year the way I did," Matusz said, "and be able to contribute and be a piece of the puzzle that we put together."
However, when 2013 begins, Matusz hopes to reassert himself into the Orioles starting rotation. But Matusz also hopes that he is able to have more success this time.
"I like having the opportunity," Matusz said. "I like to go out and fight and try to earn a spot in that starting rotation. That's the plan from here."
Matusz has not been able to hold onto his spot in the rotation the past few seasons. In 12 starts in 2011, Matusz went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA before being sent down to the minors. Matusz went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in his 16 starts last season.
"The times that he did struggle as a starter, it was usually the fourth, fifth, or sixth inning," Baltimore pitching coach Rick Adair said. "He tried to do more than he needed to."
Although Matusz said he wants to be a starter, he said he enjoyed his time as a reliever.
"It was nice to go out there and have some success and gain a little bit of confidence," Matusz said. "That's a big part of this game."
Matusz, who was taken fourth overall in 2008, turns 26 on Monday. The left-hander did not always struggle as a starter. After Buck Showalter was hired as Orioles manager in August 2010, Matusz went 7-1.
"Being 25, being young still, I'd like to have that opportunity to still be a starter," Matusz said. "I've had my ups and had my downs. For me, it's just a matter of being consistent."
Matusz just hopes his consistency as reliever translates into starting this season.
"It's just a matter of going out and throwing the ball well and getting outs," Matusz said. "My focus right now is to make the rotation out of spring and that's the only thing on my mind."