Matusz Putting Together a Strong Finish

This year was never going to be the Orioles’ year. They were short on sure things, and they were still guided by manager Dave Trembley, who was essentially the longest tenured interim manager in baseball at the time. But unlike Orioles teams of years past, the 2010 team had promise. They had a young center fielder on the brink of stardom. Their catcher had his own mythology. Their young pitchers tantalized the imagination. With some progress from those franchise players the Orioles could have taken a step towards contention in 2010. Instead they fought and clawed to keep themselves out of the cellar.

Brian Matusz represented one of the bigger disappointments. The Orioles’ No. 1 prospect before the season, he received rave reviews from prospect rating outlets. Baseball America not only praised his stuff and command, but also his mind for the game. Marc Hulet also ranked him No. 1 and made similar observations. Matusz might not have been quite ready to head a rotation in his second full pro season, but he seemed poised to take a few steps forward.

Like the Orioles’ season on the whole, Matusz’s 2010 did not go according to plan. He started off at a decent pace, a 4.18 ERA and 3.16 FIP through eight starts. In his ninth start he gave up seven runs in 2.1 innings to the Rangers. In his tenth he surrendered six in five innings to Oakland. After a few good starts he tumbled again, and by July’s end he had a 5.46 ERA and 4.36 FIP. That’s not a poor fielding-independent stat for a second-year pro, but with that ERA combined with the expectations placed on Matusz, it looked particularly poor.

On August 2 the Orioles brought in their new manager, Buck Showalter, and it had an immediate and positive impact on the organization. The Orioles not only played well in August, going 17-11, but they outplayed all of their foes in the AL East. The hitters started to hit better. The pitchers started to experience better results. It’s almost like they started playing to the level that we expected earlier in the year. Brian Matusz was a big part of that turnaround.

Last night he held down the Red Sox for just two runs through six innings, striking out six to just one walk. It capped off an August that has helped change the perception of Matusz’s season. Before he was a young, high-ceiling pitcher who was having trouble navigating the league. Now, after a month in which he had a 2.43 ERA and 3.34 FIP, he’s again a young ace-in-training on the right track. That’s something the Orioles need after their disappointing season.

Matusz’s hot August becomes more impressive when we see the quality of his opponents. He had one bad start in which he allowed five runs in four innings against the Rays, the league’s third-best offense. But he also allowed one run in six innings and one run in seven innings against the No. 6 White Sox; no runs in eight innings against No. 4 Texas; and two runs in six innings against No. 2 Boston. His only easy game came against No. 9 Anaheim, and he made the most of it with a six-inning, one-run performance.

Even with a hot September Matusz’s season-long numbers won’t look that pretty. But that’s not the important part right now. The Orioles were non-contenders from Day One. What mattered in their 2010 season was the development of key young players. The plan didn’t go so well at first, but since Showalter took over they’ve been back on track. The Baltimore franchise might not have taken a big step forward in 2010, but they’re still poised for a run in a few years. Whenever it happens, Matusz figures to play a big part.

Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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13 years ago

Not sure exactly why this has occurred, but as soon as Buck took over, all of the starters — Matusz, Guthrie, Arrieta, Millwood and Bergesen — started going deep into games, and for the most part (knock on wood), the innings the pitchers are tossing have been of high quality. I really don’t know if Buck has had some sort of distinct influence upon the starters or if the young guys are just getting better with more and more experience and the uptick in performance just randomly coincided with Buck’s arrival. Whatever the case may be, the starters are throwing a lot more strikes, and thus, getting ahead of hitters rather than nibbling. It also helps that for the first time all year, the Orioles aren’t playing with a defense that has guys out of position all over the place. No more Wigginton at second, no more Patterson misjudging line drives in left. A better defense means better results.

Matusz’s issues, as was the case with most of the staff, often came when he couldn’t command any of his stuff (maybe he was trying to be too perfect and was nibbling way too much.) He fell behind hitters and walked a lot more than he should have, and thus, struggled. Matusz has also never really enjoyed much run support this year, and I’d have to imagine it’s hard to pitch knowing you have to toss a four-hitter to have a chance to win, which goes back to trying to be too perfect and nibbling.