It's no secret that the Orioles are more than a little concerned with Brian Matusz's declining velocity. Matusz insists that he's healthy, and that might be true, but the radar gun doesn't lie. A player who once regularly threw 94 mph fastballs now tops out in the high 80s, and opposing hitters have been teeing off on him in his past three starts.
And while the Orioles, and their fans, are holding out hope that the 24-year-old will regain his old form, manager Buck Showalter said Sunday the reality is Matusz needs to figure out how to pitch with the stuff he's got because his velocity might not come back this year.
"I think you've got to proceed like it might not [return]," Showalter said. "It's not just five starts. He pitched in the spring, he pitched in rehab starts. It's more than that. It's a pretty large sampling."
There are plenty of examples, Showalter said, of pitchers who lost velocity during their career and managed to remain effective. But typically, they were veterans who had already learned the nuances of pitching. Matusz is going to need to learn how to locate his secondary pitches better, Showalter said, and deal with the psychological change of knowing he's not the same player who came into the major leagues and could throw the ball past people.
"I can [think] to back to 20 guys that come to the big leagues with [good] of velocity. And then as their career goes on, [they lose it]," Showalter said. "Whether it's Jimmy Key or Frank Tanana ... what do you do to defend yourself? How do you give yourself a chance to win? In some ways, it may be a positive in his career, if you're searching for silver linings. The good thing is he's got good secondary pitches. If he commands them, he should be OK."
Showalter chuckled after he said the words "searching for silver linings," an acknowledgement that it was a bit of a stretch to suggest this recent string of bad outings — in his past three starts, he has a 15.58 ERA while surrendering 20 hits, eight walks and six homers in 111/3 innings — could be good for Matusz. But it's obvious Matusz needs to figure out different ways to get hitters out because the team says the plan is for him to work through his issues in the majors.
"Believe me, we've spent a lot of time looking at mechanics and a lot of different things that go into it," Showalter said. "We're constantly trying to help. I'll put it this way: I think Brian, more than at any other stage, is receptive to some things. ... At some point, when something kind of hits you between the eyes, it's pretty obvious."
Showalter reiterated that Matusz doesn't feel injured. But the mental aspect of struggling is wearing on him.
"Obviously, psychologically and mentally, no, [he's not right]," Showalter said. "Who is when you're struggling? But he's strong. I think he has a real healthy respect for what you have to do to have success up here. He's been on both sides of that mountain. Physically, I think that's probably the frustrating part for him. He does feel good physically. ... The one thing you'll never do is you will not throw harder when you're trying to throw harder. It's kind of like I want to putt straighter. The harder you try to do it, there is some anxiety that gets in there."
Arrieta pushed back again
Right-hander Jake Arrieta said he threw about 40 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday morning and felt good, but he still expects to skip his Wednesday start against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"My side was pretty good. I was a little timid at first to let it go, but once we got loose, [I] got stretched out pretty good and felt close to normal," Arrieta said. "Breaking balls were good. [What] I really wanted to make sure I was able to do was throw my curveball and slider with some pretty good effort, and I was able to do that pretty well. They were both sharp."
Arrieta, who was experiencing right elbow inflammation, said he will throw a 50-pitch bullpen session Wednesday, and if that goes well, he likely will start Saturday against the Atlanta Braves.
"I think since I didn't pick up a ball for four days from Monday, it is probably a good idea to get two bullpens in before I make a start just to kind of make sure I am full strength, which I think I am. It's just a matter of getting a 40-, 50-pitch pen in before I go out there and throw 110 pitches."
Nothing is official, but the guess is that Chris Jakubauskas will start Wednesday versus the Cardinals.
Arrieta is 9-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 starts this year. He threw all his pitches Sunday and experienced no discomfort in the elbow. He left Monday's start after just five innings. Pushing him back a few days, he said, is simply a precaution.