CLEVELAND — The return of a healthy Brian Matusz would be a welcome development for an Orioles rotation in flux. However, the young left-hander appears to be several weeks away from making his 2011 debut.
The Orioles had initially hoped that Matusz would rejoin the club on their 11-day homestand, which begins Monday, and start throwing bullpen sessions off the mound in front of pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair. But Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Sunday that the 24-year-old is still feeling effects from a strained left intercostal muscle and hasn't been cleared to throw off the mound. He'll remain on a throwing program at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., for the time being.
"I don't expect him to join us anytime soon," Showalter said. "He'll be down there. I wouldn't place a closed end on it. It's still open. We'll see how he feels the next few days. We're not going to rush that. J.J. [Hardy] is feeling a little bit better. Good to see some progress with him. Both those injuries are something that are very inexact with the timeframe. History will show you that if you try to get ahead of yourself, you're going to regret it, so we're not going to do that."
Showalter was adamant that Matusz, whose disabled list stay is backdated to March 30, hasn't had any setbacks and the lefty just still feels lingering, minor discomfort when he throws.
"In a zero to 10 scale of how much you feel it, it is a one," Showalter said. "But as long as that one is there, we're not going to push forward. We hope that one goes away in the next day or two."
Uehara's streak ends
Koji Uehara said the end of his streak of 36 appearances without a walk was "nothing to really dwell on" and proved that he wasn't too bothered after Sunday's game by playfully chiding a reporter for not writing more about it.
When Uehara's full-count pitch to Shin-Soo Choo with one out in the eighth inning was called a ball by plate umpire Ed Hickox, major league baseball's third-longest streak of appearances without a walk since 1954 ended. Uehara had not walked a batter since the Toronto Blue Jays' Fred Lewis in the ninth inning July 16.
The only longer streaks were authored by Dennis Eckersley, who did not issue a walk in 41 straight games from Aug. 17, 1989, to June 10, 1990, and John Smoltz, who did not walk a batter in 38 games from July 24, 2003, to June 8, 2004.
The Orioles were none too pleased with Hickox's strike zone for much of the game, prompting Showalter to say: "I'm not so sure it was a walk either. … I wasn't even aware of it, but it doesn't surprise me at all."
Asked about Hickox's strike zone during the at-bat, which started with three straight balls, Uehara said through interpreter Jiwon Bang: "I think it wasn't going well with the umpires today."
Two batters later, Uehara issued another walk to Travis Hafner before striking out Orlando Cabrera to end the eighth. His 29 pitches Sunday were four pitches fewer than he threw in his first 42/3 innings this season, though Uehara said he felt strong physically.
"I wasn't burdened at all," he said. "I'll be ready to go [Monday]."
Showalter not blaming Fox
Showalter defended Jake Fox's defense and game-calling and said he doesn't put the starting pitchers' struggles during his two starts on the catcher.
In Fox's two starts behind the plate — Jake Arrieta pitched April 9 and Jeremy Guthrie on Saturday — Orioles starters allowed 14 earned runs, 16 hits and three walks in 81/3 innings.
"When you're comparing anybody with [Matt Wieters], it's going to be a tough comparison, but Jake's a hard trier," Showalter said. "He brings some things for us on the days he catches and gives us some options to play different places. We certainly aren't [putting] that on him. We just didn't make good pitches as much as anything else. I think Jeremy will be the first to tell you that. I thought Jeremy's tempo was pretty good [Saturday] for the most part."
The reality is that the Orioles would prefer to use Fox in a utility role and carrying a more conventional backup catcher, like Craig Tatum, but they are in a position where they need to have an eight-man bullpen because the starters aren't getting deep enough in games.
"Conventionally, yeah, 12 pitchers or 11 — remember those days — or 10 or 9. But we're not there right now until we kind of get settled in on a rotation, and that may not happen for a while," Showalter said.
Rapada to get called up
With Michael Gonzalez struggling, the Orioles will select the contract of another left-handed reliever, Clay Rapada, before the start of a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins on Monday. Long reliever Chris Jakubauskas will go on the 15-day disabled list with a groin injury to make room on the 25-man roster, but the Orioles will still have to make a 40-man move to accommodate Rapada.