Entering this season it looked as if the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation would be one of the better ones in recent memory and if all went well, the playoff dream was not in the back of the Orioles fan’s minds, but it seemed like it could be a reality in 2011.
Southpaw sensation and possible cornerstone of the organization Brian Matusz was expected to be the number two starter, behind ace Jeremy Guthrie, but, as Baltimore fans know all too well, something went tragically wrong…Matusz injured his pitching arm with an intercostal strain. The team expected him to be out only about a month and return in May.
Matusz did not return to the starting rotation until early this month, and so far he has not pitched well at all and he looks like a completely different pitcher than when he won seven of his last eight decisions and pitched to a 2.18 ERA over the last two months of the season in 2010.
In five starts this month, Matusz has surrendered 17 earned runs in only 22.1 innings while allowing 31 hits and giving up seven homeruns. Matusz was supposed to be one of the leaders of the Orioles future rotation for years to come, but should we be concerned with his performance up to this point? I think there is cause for concern, but not panic yet and I’ll tell you why.
Last year was Matusz’s first full year in the major leagues and although he did not fair too well throughout the first half of the season, something clicked in August and he began pitching like he was projected to by the Orioles front office and scouts.
In April, Matusz toed the rubber five times and won two of those games, with only one loss and two no decisions with a modest 4.40 ERA. He did not allow more than four earned runs in a start throughout the month, and three or less in four of those outings…not a bad start at all.
Then, the calendar turned to May and everything unraveled and went downhill from there. Matusz tossed 24 innings and surrendered 20 earned runs; he pitched to an 0-4 record with a 7.50 ERA in the second month of the season. His ERA rose from 4.40 at the end of April to 5.76 by May 31st.
June treated Matusz better in the ERA department, but with less run support and more innings pitched, he still failed to win a game and dropped to 2-9 on the season, and 0-4 in the month for the second straight month. His ERA in June was a respectable 3.69 as he allowed only 16 earned runs in 39 innings pitched, and he lowered his season ERA to 4.90.
As the summer continued to heat up, Matusz still could not find his name in the win column. Matusz finally won a game on July 4th for the first time since April 18th after not allowing a run to the Red Sox in seven innings, but he could not pick up another win the rest of the month and it got real ugly.
Over his next four outings in July, he allowed 18 earned runs in just 13 innings (a 12.46 ERA over that stretch) and lost two games, with two no decisions. He allowed four or more runs in three of those four starts and failed to make it to the 5th inning in three of those starts.
Overall in July, Matusz allowed 18 earned runs in 20 innings pitched (8.10 ERA, the highest ERA in a single month in his career), and his record fell to 3-11 on the season with a 5.46 ERA. Some were left wondering why he even stayed with the club and was not demoted to the minor leagues with his struggles over the last three months.
As we all know, interim manager Juan Samuel, who led the club after Dave Trembley was fired in early June, was replaced at the beginning of August and Buck Showalter took over the team. That’s when the Birds turned their horrid season around and Matusz really stepped his game up for the remaining two months of the season.
August proved to be his best month in terms of victories. Matusz picked up four wins in a month for the first time in his career and his ERA dropped to 4.72 for the year. In his six outings, Matusz allowed only 10 earned runs over 37 innings pitched (2.43 ERA).
Matusz allowed only more than two runs in one August start, and in four of them, he surrendered one earned run or less. I guess the pressure of a new manager and Showalter’s new philosophy helped Matusz get his head on straight.
So, how could he top his August performance? Well, it doesn’t seem like he could, but he did and impressed everyone in the clubhouse, and especially the fans. In September and October, Matusz was undefeated as he won three of his five games with two no decisions and dropped his season ERA to 4.30.
Over 25 innings in those five outings, Matusz allowed only five earned runs, which averages out to a 1.80 ERA (the lowest ERA for a month in his career). Matusz surrendered one earned run or less in four of those five outings, although he was taken out in one start with a left tricep contusion, which only allowed him to toss one inning.
Matusz ended the season with a 10-12 record and a 4.30 ERA, but those numbers do not tell the whole story. Over the last full two months of the year, Matusz tossed 62 innings and allowed only 15 earned runs (2.18 ERA). Over his previous three months of work, Matusz gave up 54 earned runs in 83 innings pitched with a 1-10 record (5.86 ERA).
Showalter must have said or done something to turn his season around because Showalter took over as manager of the Orioles on August 2nd, and in his first outing under Showalter, Matusz tossed six innings and allowed only one run to earn his fourth win of the season, and first in about a month against the Angels.
At the end of the 2010 season, Matusz looked as if he was on the right path and he would have a great career in Baltimore. Fans instilled faith in the Orioles and their farm system. Maybe something was actually going right in Baltimore and they would be able to revert back to the Davey Johnson days in the mid-to-late ‘90s and find themselves in a pennant race.
Matusz geared up for the 2011 season and landed in Sarasota, Florida with hopes of picking up where he left off at the end of the 2010 season. Although he did not fair too well in spring training, as he was 0-2 with a 5.93 ERA in four outings, it is just spring training and that should not be an indicator of the season ahead.
Matusz returned to the Orioles starting rotation in early June and fans rejoiced; well, at least I did because I thought he would return to the caliber of pitching he ended the season with last year. But, this month has been anything but that.
Reports say that Matusz is not throwing as hard as he did before he made his first stint on the disabled list. Now, the radar gun is only reading the upper 80s when he takes the mound, as opposed to his normal low-to-mind 90s.
Showalter has acknowledged that he might not be able to return to his form and he needs to find another way to get major-league hitters out. I think there is cause for concern here because Matusz has looked flat and has not been able to find his location since his return.
As I’ve explained, it took about four months for him to find his form last season, so maybe it will take him even longer this season. We might not see Matusz back to his 2010 form until next season, although he insists there is nothing wrong with him and he is completely healthy.
His numbers are ugly this year and if the Orioles are going to have any chance this season in making the playoffs, this is where new pitching coach Rick Adair really needs to focus in my opinion. This should be very concerning for Baltimore fans because he was, among others like Britton for example, supposed to lead the pitching staff in the future.
But, if anyone is going to turn around a pitching staff and team, Showalter is the one to do it. I have complete faith in Buck and I think he’ll be able to help Matusz return to the form we saw last year. Matusz might have to spend more time in the minors and refine his skills, but that’s something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
So, yes Orioles fans should be concerned with Matusz and the way he’s pitched in his first month back off the disabled list, but I don’t think it’s cause for panic…yet. Have faith in Buck and the rest of his staff to figure out what is wrong with Matusz and get him back on track!
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.