Matusz Likely On His Way Up

Lefty 'A Strong Possibility' To Start Tuesday In Detroit

August 02, 2009|By Dan Connolly and Jeff Zrebiec | Dan Connolly and Jeff Zrebiec,

It goes against recent organizational philosophy. It is counter to the cautious nature of club president Andy MacPhail.

But it is now, according to MacPhail, "a strong possibility" that the Orioles will scrap their original timeline and promote last year's top draft pick, left-hander Brian Matusz to pitch Tuesday in Detroit.

No decision has been officially made, but Matusz, 22, was pulled after pitching one inning for Double-A Bowie in the front end of a doubleheader Saturday at New Britain, Conn. When asked whether that meant Matusz would definitely pitch Tuesday for the Orioles, MacPhail said, "It's a 'We are keeping open our options,' but, yes, that is a strong possibility."

The fact that MacPhail, who previously had been adamant that Matusz would stay at Double-A this season, would acknowledge publicly that Matusz is even a candidate for the vacant rotation spot is telling.

"I'd think it'd be fair to assume he's being considered," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said during his pre-game meeting with the media. "In this game ... nothing's for certain until it's for certain, until it actually happens."

If it does, Matusz will jump over Triple-A while battling sky-high expectations and heavy-hitting major league lineups like Tuesday's opponent, the Tigers.

"People have told me he can handle it," Trembley said, referring to the organization's scouting reports.

MacPhail has said all year that Matusz, the fourth overall selection in the 2008 draft, was on the "Wieters Plan," meaning that he, like 2007 first-rounder Matt Wieters, would begin his first professional season at Single-A Frederick, then move up to Double-A Bowie. But he would go no further this year.

That apparently is no longer the case, partly because of the shin injury to starting pitcher Brad Bergesen that landed the American League Rookie of the Year candidate on the disabled list Friday. His next turn was scheduled for Tuesday.

"I think if anything has changed, it's the fact that Bergesen got hurt," Trembley said. "That's what's going on. Bergesen is hurt, and we need a pitcher."

Trembley said the club had been considering "a lot of people" for Bergesen's spot, including big league middle relievers Mark Hendrickson and Brian Bass. But no one has dominated in 2009 the way Matusz has.

With Saturday's scoreless inning, his Double-A ERA dropped to 1.55 to accompany a 7-0 record for the Baysox. He has struck out 46 batters, walked 11 and allowed just 31 hits in 46 1/3 innings. He was 4-2 with a 2.16 ERA in 11 starts for Frederick earlier this season.

"I was very impressed both in catching him in the [Arizona] fall league and the spring with how developed as a pitcher he is," Wieters said. "He's not a guy that just wants to throw fastballs. He really likes to throw his off-speed stuff, and he's a guy that can throw his off-speed stuff for strikes when he wants to. Even when he's behind in the count, he can get some fairly easy outs."

Matusz, who played at the University of San Diego, would become the seventh rookie to start for the Orioles this season as well as the fourth 2008 first-rounder to debut for a major league team in 2009.

"The jump is only as tough as you make it," said Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, a 2002 first-round pick who was in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in his second pro season. "If you are able to throw the same way you did in Double-A or Triple-A or wherever you may find yourself prior to coming to the major leagues, that's the recipe."

Guthrie spent time with Matusz in big league camp this spring and was impressed by the polished and mild-mannered lefty.

"Most important, I think he really enjoys baseball, probably more so than really anyone I've ever talked to," Guthrie said. "He really enjoys pitching, and he was just happy as can be to be in a major league camp, to be surrounded by major league players. I think that was a huge, huge deal to him.

"And I think naturally when you enjoy something, you'll work hard at it, you'll have fun, you'll learn, and I think he is turning in a great year so far."

The Orioles already have promoted Wieters, outfielder Nolan Reimold and pitchers Bergesen, Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Jason Berken.

The club's future rotation may be together for the final two months of this season.

"That would be unbelievable," Tillman said. "It would be fun, especially for the fans. It'll show this organization is looking up. And it's only going to get better. You still have guys in the minor leagues that can play."

NOTE: : A magnetic resonance imaging taken Saturday on Bergesen's left shin revealed no break or fracture, and the pitcher is hopeful he'll be able to return to the rotation as soon as his stint on the 15-day disabled list ends Aug. 14.

Bergesen was hit by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City's Billy Butler in the seventh inning of Thursday's victory over the Royals. Still in pain and on crutches, Bergesen stopped by to see teammates before Saturday's game. He said he was relieved that no stress fracture was found.

"I guess in layman's terms, there is something that wraps around the bone and when the ball hit it, the wrap around the bone came off and there's blood that filled in," he said. "There's also a major nerve that runs along there, so that probably got crushed. I lost all strength in my leg getting in there, and the impact on the bone particularly made it such a bad bruise and that spot so weak. That's what causing so much pain."

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