Orioles starter Brian Matusz pitches against the visiting… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
Brian Matusz walked into the home clubhouse at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon and smiled broadly when he overheard a conversation about the amateur draft that was set to begin in three hours.
"I remember that day," Matusz said.
With much of the night's focus on whom the Orioles would select with the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, the club's most recent first-round choice to make the big leagues pitched well enough to give his team a chance to win, but his performance did little to squelch persistent questions about his velocity.
In his second big league start this season, Matusz, the fourth overall pick in 2008, allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings and was backed by a flawless night from the bullpen in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the reeling Oakland Athletics in front of an announced 10,556, the smallest crowd at Camden Yards this season.
It was the seventh straight loss for the A's (27-34) after they swept a three-game series over the Orioles (27-31) two weekends ago.
"I'm starting to get a little bit more comfortable," said Matusz (1-0), who allowed seven hits, including Adam Rosales' two-run homer in the fourth, and walked two in his second start since missing the first two months of the season with a strained left intercostal muscle. "I'm a little tentative out there and tight, thinking about too many things instead of just relaxing and letting the ball [go]. But I was able to make the pitches today when I needed to.Good curveball working, changeup at times. The most important thing is making good pitches."
Jim Johnson did plenty of that, entering the game with two men on and one out in the sixth and getting Rosales to hit into an inning-ending double play. He pitched a scoreless seventh, and Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg did the same in the eighth and ninth.
The three relievers retired all 10 hitters they faced, and Gregg struck out two in the ninth to pick up his 11th save. He has converted his past four save opportunities and not given up a run over his past six innings. Uehara has allowed runs in just two of his past 13 outings, while Johnson is riding an 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak and has allowed just two earned runs in his past 15 outings.
"I think some guys have their roles more defined. We all know kind of where we're going to slot in," Johnson said. "We're trying to keep moving the chain and keep the momentum going."
The steady bullpen work was needed on a night when the Orioles' offense scored a run in the first inning on Vladimir Guerrero's RBI single and three more in the second on RBIs by Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis. Gio Gonzalez, however, shut them down after that, retiring 13 of the final 14 hitters he faced. Gonzalez (5-4) allowed four runs (three earned) on nine hits and a walk over seven innings.
"He's one of the better pitchers in our league," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We scored four runs. It isn't like we opened him up, but pitching and the defense were the difference."
Matusz allowed base runners in every inning except his five-pitch fifth. He benefited from Adam Jones' throwing out Conor Jackson trying to stretch a single into a double in the first and the center fielder robbing Coco Crisp of an extra-base hit in the third. Nolan Reimold also made two nice catches just in front of the left-field stands.
But the lefty, relying prominently on his curveball and changeup, made pitches when he needed to, retiring the dangerous Josh Willingham, who owned the Orioles in the earlier series, twice with runners in scoring position.
"It was a very similar outing to last time out," Showalter said when asked to compare Matusz's first two starts. "He spun the ball enough and got some outs with the changeup and he got into counts a few times, and I thought tonight he gave in to the count and threw some cutters that got him off the fastball in fastball counts and got some outs there. He was up a little more than he needs to be."
Rosales' homer came on a 2-0 fastball that measured just 87 mph on the stadium radar gun. Matusz was consistently in the mid- to high 80s with his fastball, essentially the same as in his first start in Seattle.
"I feel good healthwise, 100 percent," said Matusz, whose fastball averaged 89.9 mph last year and 91.5 in 2009. "Right now, I'm a little bit tense and it's not coming out the way I want it to, but it's all right. I've just got to continue making pitches and getting better. I got to go out there with a free mind and not thinking about things too much and let it fly. The more outings I get, the more comfortable I'll get. [Velocity] will come around. It's still early for me. I'm not worried about it."
However, Showalter raised some eyebrows when he said he's hopeful that, "down the road," Matusz's velocity might return.
"There's two ways to look at it. The pitch-ability part of it has allowed him to defend himself through it against Seattle and Oakland. He's shown the ability to pitch with different velocities," Showalter said. "But most guys that you get, not necessarily Brian, but they all, in their career, go down. It's not a normal thing to do, put your arm over your head and jerk it down violently 100 times every fifth day. But I feel confident that he can pitch effectively the way he is, obviously."