Before Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz took the mound at Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday, his catcher, Ronny Paulino, had a piece of advice:
"Let's have fun."
"So, OK, I went out there and had fun with it," said Matusz, who turned in his second consecutive scoreless spring outing, this time limiting the Detroit Tigers to two hits and a hit batsman in four innings. He struck out six and walked none in the Orioles' 4-2 loss.
"Oh, absolutely, had a great time out there today," Matusz said. "[We] have a great group of guys on this team, guys keeping it loose, having fun. Makes it a lot easier with the type of team we have."
Fun wasn't in abundance last year for the 25-year-old lefty, who went 1-9 and posted the worst ERA in major league history (10.69) for someone who made at least 10 big league starts.
But Matusz is preaching that this is a different year, and so far this spring, he looks like the same pitcher who excelled at the end of 2010 and not the one who struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last season.
On Thursday, Matusz dominated a Tigers lineup that included all its big guns — five days after throwing four scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"He pitched a couple games on the road against what we like to call home-game lineups," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's early, but I just like to see the ball come out of his hand good and commanding all his pitches, regardless of who [he is facing] and where he is pitching. I am happy for Brian as much as anything."
Matusz used an array of impressive off-speed pitches as well as a fastball that was clocked between 91 and 93 mph. He threw 41 of his 60 pitches for strikes — something he said is a priority this season, along with continuing his conditioning program with club special assistant Brady Anderson.
In his past two spring games, Matusz has thrown a combined eight scoreless innings, allowing just five hits while striking out 10.
Orioles lose to Tigers
Veteran outfielder Endy Chavez led off Thursday's game with a home run against the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander.
Verlander allowed just two more hits and no more runs in the following 32/3 innings while striking out eight batters in the Tigers' victory.
The Tigers took the lead with a three-run sixth against Orioles right-hander Miguel Socolovich, who left the game mid-inning with groin tightness. It's not considered serious.
"He wanted to continue, but we are not going to take a chance there," Showalter said.
The Orioles dropped to 4-6 in the exhibition season while the Tigers improved to 9-1.
Backup catcher options
Taylor Teagarden, who was expected to be the club's reserve catcher, said Thursday that he still isn't giving up hope but acknowledged it might be a push for him to be ready to start the season.
Teagarden learned Wednesday that the back discomfort he is feeling is being caused by a slight tear in the ligament that supports the disk. He had an epidural and has been told that if he responds to treatment, he could be ready to play in two to three weeks.
"I'm not really sure what the timeframe is. It's not serious," Teagarden said. "It could have been worse, but it is going to take a little more time to heal. I've kind of got to play it day to day."
The Orioles could turn to Paulino, who arrived into camp more than three weeks late because of visa problems. Paulino has caught in the past two games, will have a day off, then play in two more this weekend in hopes he can get up to speed after the layoff.
"He's going to catch up in a hurry," Showalter said. "By the time he gets to April, he'll work a little harder on that visa next year."
The Orioles also will watch the waiver wire closely for a potential reserve catcher as the exhibition season begins to wane and other clubs experience roster crunches.
The Orioles optioned pitcher Oliver Drake (Navy) to Double-A Bowie on Thursday and also told catcher Caleb Joseph that he will be reassigned to minor league camp. Both were at Thursday's game at Joker Marchant Stadium — and so was first baseman Joe Mahoney, who was optioned Wednesday.
Showalter said it's possible they will stay with the club for several more days while the Orioles gets through split-squad games Saturday and Sunday. After Monday's day off, Showalter said the roster, which sits at 47, will be thinned out more.
Wada may pitch Sunday
Lefty Tsuyoshi Wada (elbow) might pitch one or two innings Sunday in Orlando against the Atlanta Braves, which would be his Orioles Grapefruit League debut. He threw a 33-pitch simulated game Wednesday and feels he is ready to pitch in a game.
"We have a lot of different options, and we talked to him, too," Showalter said. "I think he wants to face major league hitters."
Right-hander Alfredo Simon has been dealing with a sore groin but says he is feeling better, and Showalter said he expects Simon will pitch Saturday or Sunday, depending on how he feels. Lefty Zach Britton (shoulder) allowed no hits and no runs in two innings during a Triple-A game against Boston Red Sox farmhands at Twin Lakes Park. He threw 31 pitches in the game and four more afterward in the bullpen to reach his 35-pitch limit. Righty Jason Berken (hamstring) threw off flat ground and a half-mound, and Showalter said he is getting close to pitching against hitters.
Around the horn
Bench coach John Russell will manage Saturday's split-squad game at Fort Myers against Boston. Showalter hopes to be able to manage both games Sunday — an afternoon game in Orlando and an evening game in Sarasota. … The Orioles' 2011 eighth-round pick, Johnny Ruettiger, was an outfield replacement in Thursday's game, his first action with the big league club. He is the nephew of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger of Notre Dame fame.