When Orioles center fielder Luis Matos reached on an infield hit during the eighth inning of Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, it probably took all of his restraint to keep from doing a lap around the field. Cartwheels would have been tempting, but a bit excessive.
A single to shortstop must have felt like a 400-foot blast to a player who has been scuffling so badly at the plate.
Matos was 0-for-10 before reaching against Devil Rays reliever John Halama, and a 6-for-44 stretch has lowered his average to .176. Manager Lee Mazzilli held him out of the lineup for the first time in 15 games, shifting Larry Bigbie to center and starting B.J. Surhoff in left.
"He called me into the office and told me that he was going to give me a day off and to just relax," said Matos, who pinch-ran last night in the seventh inning and scored a run. "It's good that he let me know. It's not like I looked at the lineup and saw I wasn't there."
Said Mazzilli: "I just think he needs a night off. He'll be back in the lineup [today]. I spoke to him about it. No big deal."
Could sitting Matos have the opposite effect?
"I would like to think not," Mazzilli said. "He's a pretty good player. I look at this in a positive way."
And there's no denying that Matos could use a positive flow in his professional life. He has been swimming against the current since leaving spring training.
His average never dipped below .300 last year after joining the team from Triple-A Ottawa in late May, and he batted .333 in 17 exhibition games. The challenge now is climbing to that level - or somewhere near it.
"Yesterday, I had counts to hit in, 3-1, 3-2, and then I swung at bad pitches. That's why I'm getting madder than the days before," he said. "I'm right there. I'm so close. I just want to get some base hits."
Matos struck out twice Thursday, and the frustration is building - within the player, not the manager.
Mazzilli pulled him aside Wednesday with instructions to relax and not let the slump creep inside his head.
"I wanted to let him know that his manager wasn't worried about anything," Mazzilli said. "You just want to get him back to that comfort zone where he was, and the player he was last year. He's a pretty good player.
"I just said you have a lot to offer this team, and you can't put too much into what you're hitting the first two weeks of the season. You can't let that manifest, and the next thing you know, it's two weeks into the season and you're worrying about it. I know what he can do."
That includes when Matos is wearing a glove.
"I told him, 'You're one of the best center fielders in this league and you've got to know that when you play.' And he does," Mazzilli said.
"That shows you something. You don't want to carry that with you, and you've got to make sure they don't carry it with them. That's part of my job."
Matos, who missed 10 days of spring training with a stress fracture in his right shin, hasn't been turning over the post-game spread or destroying water coolers in the dugout. His temper is held in check, though he had reason to blow Tuesday after twice being called out at first base on close plays that could have favored him.
"I watched the video, and I was safe both times," he said. "I could have started 2-for-2, but luck's not on my side right now."