Former Orioles left-handed reliever Brian Matusz was back home in Arizona on Wednesday contemplating the next step in his baseball career, reflecting on his time in Baltimore while still trying to digest the past 48 hours.
Matusz, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves for a pair of pitching prospects and the Orioles’ competitive-balance pick in this year’s draft and then was immediately designated for assignment by the Braves, is waiting for a call to tell him about his future.
“It’s been tough,” Matusz told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday in a phone interview. “Being a part of the Baltimore Orioles is all I really know. It’s been tough, but at the same time, I was struggling. I wasn’t throwing the ball real well. It’s been kind of a weight off my shoulders to have a fresh start somewhere. I’ve just kind of been reflecting and taking things one thing at a time and see how things play out.”
Matusz said just 10 minutes after he received a call Monday from Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette telling him he had been traded, he received a call from the Braves informing him he was being designated by his new team. Matusz said neither really surprised him.
After designating Matusz on Monday, the Braves still have eight days to trade, release or put him on waivers. Since he had five years of major league experience, he can refuse an outright assignment to the minors if he clears waivers and become a free agent. But Matusz didn’t want to get ahead of himself, saying he would wait to think too much about his future.
“It’s tough to say just because of the waiver process,” Matusz said. “… You never know what could happen. So right now, I’m just kind of sitting and playing the waiting game and see how things play out and then go from there.”
The Orioles made Matusz the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft and he made his major league debut one year later. Matusz initially saw success as a starter, but struggled in 2011 and reinvented himself as a reliever in 2012. As the team’s situational lefty reliever, Matusz played a key role for the Orioles' 2012 and 2014 playoff teams.
Matusz opened this season on the disabled list with a lower back strain and never found his form. He posted a 12.00 ERA over six relief innings after his return.
From 2013 to 2015, Matusz's first three seasons as a full-time reliever, he held left-handed hitters to a .193 batting average. Lefties hit only .186 against him last season. But this season, he particularly struggled against left-handers (.455 batting average against). Ten of the 16 left-handers Matusz faced reached base as he allowed five hits and issued five walks.
Asked Wednesday whether the past two days allowed him to pinpoint the root of his struggles, Matusz was still looking for answers.
“You know what? I’m not really sure,” Matusz said. “Obviously getting hurt in spring training and getting set back wasn’t fun. But [vice president of baseball operations] Brady [Anderson] and I, we were rehabbing, working together. I had some good outings in Frederick and I was able to build some confidence and I made that transition back to the team. I felt the ball was coming out good at times. Just a couple things, a couple bad pitches here and there, a couple things didn’t go my way and I just never really found that groove.
"It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what happened, and it’s unfortunate. I would have liked to have contributed and be a part of the team and help a little bit better, but things happen for a reason and now I’m in a situation where I’m ready to move forward and see how things play out.”
He reflected on his time as an Oriole on Wednesday. He singled out his strikeout of Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton in the 2012 American League wild-card game as one highlight of many that stood out. But above all, he relished being a part of the team’s transformation from last-place team to contender.
“Just the memories and the moments of being with a great group of guys and to see the Orioles organization go from where it was in 2008 to where they are now,” Matusz said. “It’s been a blessing to be a part of such a great organization, such a great city, to kind of see the ballclub and the city thrive. To be able to be a part of the 2012, 2014 postseason and pitch in the playoffs and be able to contribute really was special. Good memories and great friendships that were made. Those were some great moments in my life personally and in my playing career that I’ll never forget.
"… Many good starts, many good relief appearances, just being a part of a couple really good ballclubs and being with a bunch of really great ballplayers, it really was something special, something that I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life.”
Even though he was successful as a reliever, Matusz still had his heart set on eventually returning to the rotation. Another team could give him that opportunity, but Matusz said he will be willing to contribute in either role.
“I’m not sure yet,” Matusz said. “Just kind of look at the situation and look where we are at. Like I said, I’m still focused. But you never know what could happen in the next eight days. To have the options of being a starter or a reliever and have experience on both ends in the big leagues are two great assets to have. It’s good to have those options and whatever decision is made, whatever happens, I’m looking forward to having that opportunity on either end of it.”