Brian Matusz walks back to the mound after giving up a three-run… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
It didn't seem so long ago when Brian Matusz was one of the exceptions, the rare Oriole consistently performing and giving fans hope during the second-worst start in team history.
But after another short and ineffective outing Wednesday night, Matusz has become the latest in a long line of Orioles giving team officials cause for concern. In the Orioles' 6-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics before an announced 19,153 at Camden Yards, Matusz allowed six earned runs and eight hits and was gone before he was able to get an out in the sixth inning.
He allowed four runs in the first inning for a second straight start and one in the second inning, and didn't give the Orioles (15-32) much of a chance to clinch a series victory, which they'll try to do Thursday night in the third and final game of the series and the homestand.
"I am just in a bad groove," Matusz said. "I am not staying through the ball; I am not pounding the ball down in the zone. You see all the hits I am giving up are pitches that are up. It's just me needing to work on getting the ball down a little bit better."
It was the third time in the past four starts that Matusz allowed six earned runs or more and didn't last longer than five innings. After 10 starts, he is 2-5 with a 5.76 ERA, not exactly the makings of the American League Rookie of the Year campaign on which most baseball pundits expected Matusz to embark.
In five starts this month, Matusz is 0-4 with a 7.50 ERA, and he's now winless in his past seven starts after beating this A's team April 18 to improve to 2-0.
"We've all got to find a way to get him more in line and be consistent right from the very beginning," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "The first inning tonight wasn't him, and it cost us."
While Matusz's continued struggles dominated the post-game conversation, the Orioles were also shut down offensively, managing only three hits against A's starter Trevor Cahill, who worked six dominant innings, and two Oakland relievers. Of the three hits, one was a bunt single by Corey Patterson, one was a swinging bunt by Adam Jones that extended a career-high hitting streak to 12 games and the other was the first Orioles home run for struggling designated hitter Garrett Atkins.
Atkins sent a 1-2, third-inning pitch from Cahill, who made few mistakes all night, over the wall in left field. It was his first homer since Sept. 10, and it ended his homerless stretch at 145 at-bats, one shy of tying his career high.
"Obviously, it feels good," Atkins said. "You don't like having zeros up there in any columns. It took longer than I would have liked, but I was able to put a good swing on a bad pitch. It felt good. It was just a relief to have a good swing today. Obviously, he didn't make the best pitch, and I put a good swing on it. It was something that I might not have been able to do three weeks ago. It was nice to feel like I'm headed in the right direction, and hopefully there's more to come."
A rare display of power for the much-maligned Atkins normally would have been a cause for celebration, but all it did was cut the A's lead to 5-1, thanks to Oakland's big first inning.
Rajai Davis led off the game with a single, moved to second on Daric Barton's sacrifice bunt and stole third, one of a career-high three steals for him on the night. Kurt Suzuki scored Davis with a single, and three batters later, Adam Rosales launched Matusz's 1-2 fastball deep into the left-field seats. The three-run shot gave Oakland a commanding 4-0 lead.
It was reminiscent of Matusz's previous start in Texas, in which he allowed an RBI single to Ian Kinsler and a three-run homer to Nelson Cruz in the first.
"I'm not going to get frustrated about it," Matusz said. "I mean, I'm not happy with the first inning, but you've got to be able to forget about it and move on because it's a nine-inning game. You can't focus in and dwell on the first inning. I'd like to have that first inning back and wish I was in the groove that I was [from] the third inning on, but I was able to make some adjustments and settle in a lot better, and I had good command of all my pitches. It's something to work off of."
After allowing an RBI infield single to Barton in the second, Matusz retired 10 straight batters to salvage something from his outing. But he then failed to retire any of the three Oakland batters he faced in the sixth inning and was relieved by Frank Mata, who made his big league debut.
"It's just location," said catcher Matt Wieters, who had a scary moment in the sixth when he felt his left shoulder grab while making a tag at home, but he stayed in the game and said he was fine. "He's getting the ball a little bit up. I don't know if it's a little too much adrenaline coming out of the 'pen, but from innings two through five, he was vintage Matusz — good changeup, locating his fastball. It was just that first inning. We got to get it right [immediately] out of the gate and get him locating from the start."