Orioles' Matusz improving but unsure of return date

Left-hander has rejoined teammates, is feeling no pain in strained muscle

April 21, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

When left-hander Brian Matusz first learned he was headed to the disabled list with an intercostal muscle strain in early April, he refused to speculate on a timetable for his return.

Now that he seems to be getting at least a little closer to getting onto a mound, Matusz is still avoiding the temptation to pick a target date to pitch in a big league game.

"I get so excited. I just want to get out there, and I've just got to be able to take it day by day," he said. "I can't start planning things out saying, 'Oh, this is the day I want to be on the mound,' or 'This is when I want to be in a game,' because every day is different. Right now, I feel good."

After spending about two weeks rehabilitating in Sarasota, Fla., Matusz flew back to Baltimore to be with his club until at least the end of this homestand Thursday. He will throw from 120 feet Friday, likely will throw again Sunday and then be re-evaluated. The organization will decide whether he will continue his rehab on the road with the team, go back to Sarasota or begin a minor league rehab stint.

"Just staying positive about the whole situation," Matusz said. "I want to get out there as soon as I can, as fast as possible. But at the same time, I don't want to take any steps backwards."

Matusz had a slight setback about a week ago when he felt slight discomfort after throwing on flat ground on two consecutive days. He rested briefly, resumed throwing and has proclaimed himself pain-free.

"I had thrown two days in a row, and I went to throw a third day and it just didn't feel comfortable. It wasn't hurting or anything. I just felt discomfort," he said. "At that point, we took a couple more days off for precautionary reasons, but the last three days have been very good."

Matusz was limited this spring because of surgery to remove a wart from his left middle finger and an incident in a simulated game in which he was hit on the biceps with a liner. He said those instances shouldn't affect how long he needs to pitch in the minors before coming off the DL.

"I was ready to go for that first start in Tampa. I know there were a couple setbacks with the line drive and the wart and things like that," he said. "But when it comes down to it, I was still on my regular routine, getting my bullpen sessions in and throwing every day and built up to a good point.

"I am not sure how that is going to change me coming back now, but I don't think it's going to be as long as it would have been if I didn't build myself up in the spring."

Lee's defense sparkling

Seemingly on a nightly basis, new first baseman Derrek Lee shows why he has won three Gold Gloves. On Wednesday, he made a tremendous scoop of a hard, one-hop throw from shortstop Robert Andino to get speedy Minnesota Twin Matt Tolbert at first.

"With a guy like Derrek, he's made our infielders so much better," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You see how confident they feel in releasing the ball quickly and just getting it around him. I tell you, he has impacted us defensively — a certain calmness — and he takes a lot of pride in it."

Lee shrugs off the accolades, saying it is "part of the job description."

"As a first baseman, I am not going to be making a lot of diving, spectacular plays," he said. "I think my job is to save the other guys' errors and keep the error total down."

Since that part of his game is so polished, does it make a little easier for Lee, who had hit just one homer and driven in two runs this season heading into Thursday, to accept his slow offensive start?

"No. Not at all," Lee said. "I feel like part of my job is defense and part of my job, on the offensive side, is driving in runs. And I am not doing that. So it's frustrating."

Back-to-back Koji?

Through their first 17 games this season, the Orioles did not use oft-injured reliever Koji Uehara on consecutive days. It likely will happen, Showalter said, but the Orioles are being cautious with the 36-year-old.

"We haven't done it yet, but I think that option's there," Showalter said. "We just don't know what we're going to get. There's only one way to find out."

Even when Uehara does pitch consecutive days, the Orioles are going to be careful not to overuse the right-hander, who was limited this spring with a sore elbow and has been on the DL multiple times in his previous two big league seasons.

"I don't know if we're ever going to reach the point this year where we're going to take the risk of pushing the envelope on him too much where we're losing him for five months," Showalter said. "We've seen what happens when you do that."

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