Orioles starter Brian Matusz delivers in the seventh inning… (AP photo )
CHICAGO — The education of left-hander Brian Matusz has hit plenty of speed bumps in his rookie season, but there are signs that he's starting to figure it out.
For proof, manager Buck Showalter pointed to the seventh inning of the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night in front of an announced 23,733 at U.S. Cellular Field.
His pitch count at 98 heading into the inning and with the bullpen getting ready, Matusz fought back from a 2-0 count to retire cleanup hitter Paul Konerko on an infield pop-up. He then got the dangerous Carlos Quentin on another pop-up that didn't leave the infield. After falling behind 3-0 to A.J. Pierzynski and knowing one more ball likely would have ended his night, Matusz got his third straight popout to end the inning.
"I thought the most impressive inning was the seventh inning," Showalter said. "He went back out there, and those are the type of things a young pitcher can reach back for as they go forward in their careers and know that they are capable of doing that. They just can't get ahead of themselves. He was getting a little out of his delivery and got himself back in the delivery."
Matusz (6-12) authored his second consecutive dominant start and the fourth in his past five outings, allowing just one run on three hits and walk while striking out five in seven innings.
He has allowed just one run — on Gordon Beckham's solo homer in the sixth — in his past 16 innings. He has also surrendered one run or fewer in four of his past five starts. Two of those outings have come against the White Sox, who have managed just two earned runs and six hits off Matusz in two starts this year spanning 13 innings.
"I've gone through some tough times this year where I feel like I just haven't had good stuff," said Matusz, who lowered his ERA to 4.79. "Working with [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] got my mechanics back together to where I could just throw in the zone with all my pitches and get ahead. That's the biggest thing for me is getting ahead, throwing a lot of strikes. And it's finally started to work out."
Asked specifically about the seventh inning, Matusz smiled and said: "[Showalter] gave me an opportunity, so I have to attack the zone and throw strikes. When I went 3-0 on Pierzynski right there, I kind of knew if I walk him, my day is probably over. So for me, I was able to just slow it down and attack the zone. That's all you have to do is attack the zone, don't overthrow and let the hitters get themselves out."
Matusz out-dueled veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle, who allowed four earned runs on six hits and four walks over seven innings. In his previous 13 starts, Buehrle had surrendered more than three earned runs just once. But the Orioles got a 2-for-3 night with two RBIs from catcher Matt Wieters, a seventh-inning homer from leadoff man Brian Roberts and two hits from center fielder Felix Pie.
In the first two games of the series, Pie is 5-for-7 with a walk and two outfield assists. He also managed to get under the skin of Buehrle, who yelled at Pie as the outfielder ran off the field after the bottom of the sixth inning.
Asked about the incident, Buehrle said, "I let him know how I felt," but didn't identify what his issue was with Pie. However, several Orioles, who heard the Chicago pitcher yelling at Pie, said Buehrle was accusing Pie of stealing signs and warning him of ramifications for him and his Oriole teammates.
"I don't know what he says," Pie said. "I don't play that game."
The victory was secured when Koji Uehara pitched the ninth for his second save. He allowed an RBI triple to Carlos Quentin that cut the Orioles' lead to two and brought the tying run to the plate. However, Uehara struck out Pierzynski to end it.
The Orioles (45-82) improved to 4-2 against the White Sox this season and 13-9 overall under manager Buck Showalter. They need to go 2-3 over their final five games this month to clinch their first winning August since 1997.
Matusz has certainly been one of the bright spots this month. He's 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA in five August starts. This comes after a July in which he went 1-2 with an 8.10 ERA.
"Pitching in the major leagues is hard," Showalter said. "You are young without any things to reach back for. There's that unknown. It's still the biggest jump in professional sports. … There is a process, and the good ones figure it out. [Former manager] Billy Martin told me a long time ago, 'Try as you may, you can't screw up the good ones.' They figure it out. But they got to have an opportunity. Most importantly, they have to take advantage of that opportunity because it won't always be there."