Matusz Finds Groove

Rookie Allows 1 Run In 7 Innings, Strikes Out 8 In Triumphing Over Indians, Frustrations

August 31, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

After an uncharacteristic bullpen session before Thursday's game, rookie starter Brian Matusz walked to the Orioles dugout and sat down. He was both frustrated and confused as he gripped the baseball and closed his eyes, wondering what had happened in the 4 1/2 weeks since his surprise call-up to the major leagues.

"It just wasn't me," Matusz said. "I had to break it down and remember what got me here."

There had been promising glimpses during Matusz's first five big league starts, but nothing like Sunday, when the 22-year-old left-hander put it all together in overpowering the Cleveland Indians over seven dominant innings in the Orioles' 5-2 victory in front of an announced 20,643 at sun-splashed Camden Yards.

Matusz's performance, along with Felix Pie's two-run homer off Cleveland starter Justin Masterson that sparked a four-run third inning, powered the Orioles (54-77) to a split of the four-game series. It was the Orioles' sixth win in the past 11 games, a modest improvement for a team that is just 14-29 since the All-Star break.

Matusz (3-2) didn't allow a base runner until the fourth inning, didn't give up a hit until the fifth and then finished his outing by retiring the side in the seventh on just three pitches.

"I've been working all week, trying to figure out what happened, what's been going on, why I haven't been consistently pounding the strike zone with all my pitches," said Matusz, who even watched videotape of his outings this season at Double-A Bowie to get positive reinforcement. "I kind of actually just visually broke it down and went back to seeing, visualizing how I felt when I was at my best. I broke down every pitch, and I told [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and I told [manager Dave Trembley] that I figured out what I was doing wrong.

"I was trying to do too much, trying to make the curveball that much better, when in reality, I just need to throw it and go back to being comfortable on the mound. And I felt that. I felt comfortable the whole time. I felt I could throw a strike whenever I needed to. I got ahead of hitters, and I worked backwards with breaking pitches, fastballs. I did everything today. I did what I know how to do best, and I did good."

Matusz, who said his struggles were all in his head, allowed just four hits and walked one while striking out eight. His walk came with two outs in the fourth, when Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians' first base runner, reached after Matusz went to his mouth while standing on the mound. He was assessed a ball as punishment, and because the count had been 3-1, Cabrera took his base.

Jhonny Peralta led off the fifth with a single, Cleveland's first hit. That's when Matusz showed just how dominant he was. With a man on and one out, Matusz struck out Andy Marte on three pitches, the last one a 91 mph fastball at which the first baseman didn't even offer. He then struck out left-handed hitter Luis Valbuena on three straight curveballs, two of which the young second baseman watched without taking the bat off his shoulders.

"He impressed me throughout," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Matusz. "You're talking about two young kids out there in him and [catcher Matt Wieters]. They really worked a good big league ballgame out there today. I was very impressed."

Wieters said Matusz pitched the way he did when the two were paired together in the Arizona Fall League.

"The first five innings, he was outstanding," Wieters said. "He was locating his fastball very well and able to mix in his breaking ball and his changeup. ... A couple of their guys were like, 'This guy is going to be good.' He showed you today that he has that kind of stuff so he can look back on this outing and try to move forward from here."

Matusz was really only in trouble in the sixth. Leadoff man Grady Sizemore hit a one-out triple that Orioles center fielder Adam Jones couldn't corral in deep center field. Jamey Carroll then broke up Matusz's shutout with a single to center field. Matusz allowed another hit in the inning, a two-out single by Shin-Soo Choo, but then struck out Peralta for the final out.

"Matusz had all his pitches working for him today - all of them," Trembley said. "I think that was probably the Matusz we all know. There have been time this year where I think a lot of these kids think harder is better and faster is better and quicker is better. And that's not how he pitches. ... That was vintage Matusz. He's going to win so many games because he pitches in, pitches out, mixes them up. He was very, very, very good today."

Box score

for Sunday's game PG 4

YANKEES @ORIOLES

Tonight, 7:05

TV: MASN HD

Radio: 105.7 FM

Inside: Pie stays hot, delivers big homer PG 10

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