Early exit for Matusz in Orioles' 9-6 loss to Rays

Orioles starter Brian Matusz lasted just 1 1/3 innings against the Rays, giving up four runs and five hits.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds made two errors -- both leading to Tampa Bay Rays runs -- and center fielder Adam Jones played Evan Longoria's tailing liner into a two-run, inside-the-park home run.

The Rays got absolutely no resistance in stealing four bases in the first two innings, while Orioles left fielder Felix Pie was thrown out foolishly trying to steal second in a three-run game in the eighth.

But of all the disturbing images in the Orioles' dreadful 9-6 loss Sunday in front of an announced 22,032 at Camden Yards, none came close to topping Brian Matusz's jog off the mound after just 1 1/3 innings.

Not even giving his teammates a chance to capture a series victory and end an otherwise solid homestand with a win, Matusz retired just three of the 13 hitters he faced, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks before forcing the Orioles' bullpen to cover 7 2/3 innings.

"They were able to find some holes and get some things going early, and I just wasn't able to get on track today," Matusz said, in easily one of the bigger understatements of the season.

In his third start since coming off the disabled list, where he spent two months because of a strained left intercostal muscle, Matusz did nothing right, further raising concern from team officials who are left to wonder whether the young left-hander is healthy -- he says he's 100 percent -- and if he is, what happened to his velocity and command?

Orioles manager Buck Showalter clearly didn't have the answers to those questions after the game, and he also didn't commit to the 24-year-old's making his next start Saturday against the Washington Nationals.

"I don't know. We'll sit down. I haven't talked to him yet since he pitched. Brian's a very confident guy. We'll see where he is with it," Showalter said.

It was, however, pretty obvious to the Rays that Matusz wasn't the same pitcher they've seen in the past. Of his 52 pitches, only 28 of them were strikes, and he walked four of the final six hitters he faced. His fastball velocity again sagged, topping out at 88 mph, but that was more the exception than the norm.

"I think there might be something not quite right about Matusz," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not throwing as hard as he used to, so I'm certain he's not 100percent. That's what I saw."

Said Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon, who led off the game with a home run: "He just hasn't regained that zip that he had the past year."

Not only could Matusz not prevent the Rays from reaching base, but he and catcher Craig Tatum also couldn't stop the Rays from taking them after they reached. The four stolen bases in the first two innings were the most Rays have had in any game this season, and it should have been five but second base umpire Jim Reynolds incorrectly called Damon out in the second inning. That was the only out Matusz would get in the frame in the shortest start of his career in a noninjury situation.

"He keeps telling us he can read [base runners]," Showalter said. "It's been a challenge for him. Maybe we'll be able to get his attention a little bit more."

Showalter and Connor had carefully laid out Matusz's return from the disabled list so that he would face the offensively challenged Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics in his first two starts. He allowed three earned runs in 11 total innings in those two starts, but he did it with less-than-stellar stuff.

The Rays (35-30), however, took advantage of every one of his shortcomings Sunday, and his line could have been even worse had Alfredo Simon not come in with the bases loaded and one out in the second and allowed just B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly. A night after the Orioles' bullpen had to cover an 11-inning game, Simon was forced to absorb 4 2/3 innings.

"It's pretty much the same as the first two outings. He had a good statistical return, but he just wasn't able to defend himself today -- running game and stuffwise," Showalter said of Matusz (1-1). "We kept hoping he might find his stride a little bit, but fortunately Simon was there to keep us in the game. The thing that's frustrating is there was a game there to be won, even after the tough start for him."

The Orioles answered the Rays' three-run first with two runs in the bottom half on back-to-back homers by Jones and Vladimir Guerrero off Tampa Bay starter Wade Davis (5-5). But by the top of the seventh, their deficit had grown to four runs when Kelly Shoppach hit a two-run, two-out single off Michael Gonzalez.

The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh but managed just two runs on RBI groundouts by Jones and Nick Markakis.

Longoria hit just the third inside-the-park homer in Camden Yards history in the eighth inning. Jones ran in to field the ball, but it tailed on him before clipping off his glove on the way to the fence. The homer made it 9-5, and the Orioles managed one more run on Luke Scott's eighth-inning homer.

They went 5-4 on the homestand and are 30-33 this season. But the biggest concern is the health and form of Matusz. He has made three big league starts to go along with six rehabilitation outings, including two at extended spring training.

Asked whether there should be more improvement in Matusz's performances, Showalter said: "There should, there should. He's telling us he feels fine. Just not a whole lot coming out right now."