FORT MYERS, FLA. — Orioles lefty Brian Matusz has heard the rumors that he is on the trading block — and he knew that a good showing as a starter against a tough Boston Red Sox lineup on Friday afternoon may further that speculation. It's not a distraction, he said.
"I'm well aware of talks and things going on. But for me all I can control is what I can control," Matusz, 28, said. "To be able to go out and pitch and get extended and throw all four pitches and ... be able to pitch my game is really what it's all about."
Matusz allowed just two hits and struck out two batters in four scoreless innings during the Orioles' 11-5 victory. He threw 53 pitches, 36 strikes, and has allowed just one run in 10 1/3 innings this spring.
When asked about Matusz's trade status after the game, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette responded with a smile and said simply, "He really pitched a good game."
Exclusively a reliever the past two years — he had a 3.48 ERA in 63 games last season — the 2008 first-round pick made 68 starts for the Orioles from 2010 to 2012. The Orioles rotation is already six pitchers deep, but other clubs may view him as a starter — something he has always preferred to do in his career.
If interested clubs were waiting on how Matusz would fare this spring, they can't be disappointed with the results. And he's buoyed by his spring.
"I'm just kind of staying in the moment right now," said Matusz, who has made two exhibition starts. "Focusing on, 'Today was today.' and now we'll move forward to five days from now and prepare to pitch then."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said it is possible that Friday would be Matusz's last start this spring. Although it could be viewed as a trade showcase for Matusz, Showalter's reasoning for giving him another start was twofold: The club wants to stretch him out a little bit in preparation for potential long relief while also providing an alternative to having members of the 2015 rotation face division rivals this close to the beginning of the regular season.
Showalter dismissed the trade rumors as typical spring speculation.
"He hears that every year. Brian has had some success as a starter. And that's natural this time of year especially with some of the injuries going around," Showalter said. "But we are planning on him being part of our bullpen right now and some depth as a starter. But those types of things happen every spring, and he should just be honored that somebody's asking about it."
Behind Matusz's strong performance and an offensive explosion in the late innings, the Orioles beat the Red Sox in front of a soldout crowd of 9,981 Friday at JetBlue Stadium.
The Orioles took a 3-1 lead into the seventh, on the strength of two-hit days from Jimmy Paredes and Steve Clevenger, but Steve Johnson served up a three-run homer to Rusney Castillo in a four-run seventh inning for the Red Sox.
Boston's lead run didn't last long. Taking advantage of three consecutive walks from Mitchell Boggs, the Orioles scored six times in the eighth inning. Ozzie Martinez had a two-run double, and Jonathan Schoop, Caleb Joseph, Dariel Alvarez and Nolan Reimold each drove in one run. The Orioles added two more runs in the ninth on a single by Julio Borbon.
Wright and Berry optioned to Norfolk
Showalter said he expected to make several cuts after Friday's game, but logistics at JetBlue Park made it a challenge, so only two were announced. The club optioned right-hander Mike Wright and lefty Tim Berry to Triple-A Norfolk.
Wright, 25, had a 2.70 ERA in 6 2/3 innings (two earned runs) this spring while Berry, 24, had a 7.20 ERA in five innings (four earned runs).
Showalter said he met briefly with Wright on Friday, but will sit down with him again Saturday to have a lengthier conversation.
The organization's eighth-ranked prospect by Baseball America, Wright started one game and relieved in three, showing the Orioles he could be an option this summer in the bullpen if there's no spot for him in the rotation.
"Good. Real good," Showalter said of Wright's spring performance, which included just one walk and eight strikeouts. "He has presented himself as a viable option for us in two different roles."
The Orioles now have 43 players in camp, including nine non-roster invitees.
Gausman and Chen pitch in minors
To avoid pitching against Boston's primary lineup, lefty Wei-Yin Chen and right-hander Kevin Gausman threw in separate minor league games at Sarasota's Twin Lakes complex Friday.
Pitching for High-A Frederick, Chen allowed one earned run in five-plus innings. He gave up two hits, one walk and struck out three. He threw 76 pitches, 51 for strikes. Gausman threw four scoreless innings for Low-A Delmarva, giving up two hits and no walks while striking out four. He threw 56 pitches, 43 for strikes.
Pitching coach Dave Wallace stayed back in Sarasota to watch those minor league outings. Bullpen coach Dom Chiti, along with minor league coaches Mike Griffin and Alan Mills, handled pitching coach duties in the big league game.
Around the horn
Outfielder Alejandro De Aza, who went to the Dominican Republic this week to celebrate his grandfather's 99th birthday, was expected to return to Sarasota on Friday night. … Outfielder Adam Jones, third baseman Manny Machado and designated hitter Delmon Young will all go on the road Saturday and play against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers. … Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will make his next start Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Pirates. … Right-hander Chris Tillman will make his next scheduled start Tuesday in a minor league game. … … The Red Sox used a regular-season representative lineup against Matusz on Friday, but designated hitter David Ortiz was held out due to general soreness and first baseman Mike Napoli was scratched with right ankle soreness.
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina