Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette would like to add a left-handed starter this offseason, but he seemed to see no reason why the Orioles couldn't test left-hander Brian Matusz as a starter this season. Since moving Matusz to the bullpen, the club has routinely stretched Matusz out during spring training, which has allowed the left-handed reliever more opportunity to work on his pitches.
"We usually stretch him out in the spring, so that's something we could look at in the spring. And if we didn't have a lefty, that's something we might take a little longer look at. Brian usually throws pretty well in the spring, gets his pitches in shape, so Buck gives him that opportunity."
Because they'll likely lose left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles have a rotation opening and their four existing starters are all right-handed, so adding a lefty would be nice. Testing Matusz as a starter – he's pitched in relief since August of 2012 –could also give the Orioles a value starting pitcher.
Matusz projects to make $3.4 million in his final year before free agency, which is a significant amount for a situational lefty reliever, but is a bargain for a left-handed starter. If he's successful as a starter, Matusz could also give the Orioles a valuable trade chip if they decide to deal pending free agents.
"We could use a lefty to balance our rotation," Duquette said. "We'd be OK with five righties, but ideally we'd like to get some balance to our lineup and our rotation."
Part of the reason Matusz was moved to the pen was because he struggled getting right-handed hitters out, but he held right-handers to a .244 average this past season, which is considerably better than his career .299 mark against righties.
Duquette said the major difference between the L.J. Hoes the Orioles acquired this month from Houston and the one they traded away to the Astros in 2013 is his ability to steal bases.
"It looks to me that Hoes has continued to develop as a hitter, and he always got on base pretty well," Duquette said. "This year, the big increase was in his basestealing capability. You look at what he did at Triple-A. He stole a number of bases. But, he can hit, he got on base. He stole bases this year at Triple-A, and if you take a look at his production, it shows that he can be a very capable, maybe everyday player at the next level. So we're going to take a look at him."
Hoes, who was acquired for cash, stole a career-high 26 bases in 34 attempts in 99 games at Triple-A last season.
Duquette said that Hoes will fit in well in the Orioles clubhouse because he is well-liked by some of the club's more established players.
"Jonesy likes him," Duquette said. "Manny likes him. Jon Schoop, they all played with him. They like him. He's a good teammate, he's a good athlete. He's still young and he likes the Orioles. So, it will be interesting to see how he does. He was our minor league player of the year one year, and we traded to Houston for Norris, and we got him back, so that's good. That's good. That's all good."
Even though minor league player of the year Trey Mancini seemed to rise above Christian Walker among the Orioles first base prospects, Duquette said he's still high on the 24-year-old Walker, even adding that other teams have expressed trade interest in Walker.
Walker was the Orioles' minor league player of the year in 2014 after hitting .288/.357/.489 with 26 homers and 96 RBIs at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. His power numbers went slightly down in his first full season at Norfolk – his hit 18 homers and 74 RBIs – but Duquette attributed that to Norfolk's cavernous home field.
"I think Walker had a good year," Duquette said. "I think the thing you have to guard against is that ballpark in Norfolk. Even though we moved the fences in, for some reason, the ball doesn't carry well there. Walker is a pretty good ballplayer. There's quite a bit of interest in him from other clubs. Other clubs like him."
"He's got as much power as anybody in the league. Take a look at those charts in terms of how far he hits the ball. He hits the ball as far as anybody."
Duquette on newly acquired slugger Mark Trumbo