Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Matusz rocked by Indians, demoted

BALTIMORE - Brian Matusz's recent struggles have coincided with the Orioles' inability to do much of anything right in their final homestand of the first half.

And after Sunday's 6-2 setback against Cleveland in front of 16,689 at Camden Yards, Matusz found himself tied for the league lead in losses and demoted to Class-AAA Norfolk.

"Right now, my confidence isn't there because I haven't been winning ballgames," said Matusz, who is 0-5 with an 8.44 ERA in his last five starts. "I know I have the stuff, but I just have to put it all together."

Matusz fell to 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA and didn't make it out of the fifth inning Sunday. He allowed seven hits and four earned runs with three walks and two strikeouts. He also gave up a pair of solo home runs, one to Shelley Duncan in the second inning and another to Aaron Cunningham in the third.

Cleveland (40-38) opened the fourth with consecutive doubles from Jose Lopez, Duncan and Casey Kotchman and finished with eight extra-base hits. The Indians pounded Baltimore pitching in the four-game series with 32 runs en route to three wins in the set.

But the focus Sunday afternoon was on Matusz, who was 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA against Cleveland prior to the home finale. In his last five starts, Matusz has allowed 20 earned runs and 40 hits. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Matusz's failure to command his fastball has led to his woes over the last month.

"He's human, he understands what this team needs and part of the reason why we've had some success early in the season and why we're not now," said Showalter, whose team has lost nine of its last 12 games. "Nobody wants to be a part of that, so I'm sure he's not walking around showing. But he's certainly got those emotions inside, he understands the level he's got to pitch at for us to be successful as a team.

"He's not the only guy that's had some struggles. I don't want to hang it all on Brian, we've had some other people that, just statistically looking at it, you know they've got to be better."

The Orioles (42-36) closed out the first half at home with a 22-20 record and are off to the West Coast for seven consecutive games before the all-star break. They finished their nine-game homestand against Washington, Los Angeles and Cleveland with a 3-6 mark.

"We've got to play better," said catcher Matt Wieters, who had the day off Sunday. "We haven't been playing real well this series, so it's something we have to put behind us and get back to playing good baseball."

Baltimore struggled to solve Indians starter Justin Masterson, who tossed seven innings and struck out seven. Masterson (5-7) retired the first 12 batters before Adam Jones reached on an error in the fifth. Jones later scored on a Ryan Flaherty RBI single.

Jones added an RBI double in the sixth, but it wasn't enough to lift the Orioles to a series split with the Tribe.

Not even former Cleveland slugger Jim Thome, acquired in a trade Saturday with Philadelphia for two minor leaguers, could bolster the Birds' lineup. Thome went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his Orioles debut.

The Orioles head west to face Seattle for three games and Los Angeles for four before finishing out the first half of the season. They're still out of sync at the plate with runners in scoring position, batting .134 (11 for 82) over their last 14 games. But the team's pitching, which has been a strength for most of the first half, is starting to fail.

Matusz finished the 2011 season with a 10.64 ERA, the highest by a starter with 10 or more starts in major-league history. Now he'll be in the minors, trying to work on what's wrong and figure it out.

"I think there's a couple adjustments he can make that will help him," said Dan Duquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, after Sunday's game. "He's not too far away from being a winning major league pitcher, and with a couple adjustments and some consistencies that will help him command his fastball better, that will give him a much better chance to be a winning major league pitcher again."