Matusz rocked in O's 9-6 loss to Cardinals, demoted

Lefty sent to Triple-A Norfolk after allowing career-worst eight runs

  • Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz reacts in the fourth inning, in which he gave up four runs to the Cardinals, including a three-run homer.
Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz reacts in the fourth… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
July 01, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

After turning in one of the worst statistical outings of his professional career in a 9-6 loss Thursday night to the St. Louis Cardinals, struggling left-hander Brian Matusz was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, putting to bed a nightmarish June for the pitcher many considered to be the cornerstone of the franchise's future.

"We're not going to take him with us to Atlanta, and [we'll] try to get him in a place where he can hopefully be in a better environment for him to get back to where he needs to be," said manager Buck Showalter, who did not announce a corresponding move. "I'm not mad or unhappy with him. I'm just frustrated for him because we know he's capable of better."

After missing the first two months of the season with an intercostal muscle strain, Matusz was activated June 1 and made six starts -- failing to go six innings in any of them while allowing four or more runs on four occasions.

None, however, was as bad as Thursday's outing, in which Matusz (1-4) recorded just 10 outs and allowed a career-worst eight runs on nine hits and a walk, pushing his season ERA to 8.77.

"I am not getting it done up here," said Matusz, whose previous high in runs allowed was seven on May 20, 2010. "It's not fair for the team, every fifth day I go out there and make starts like this. It's just motivation for me to get down there and work with Mike Griffin, the pitching coach, and get myself back to regular form."

Before an announced crowd of 28,340, the Cardinals (44-38) celebrated the franchise's first visit to Camden Yards with three consecutive wins, their first road sweep this season. The Orioles (35-43) have lost six of eight and now embark on a brutal 10-game road trip to Atlanta, Texas and Boston before the All-Star break.

They'll be doing it without Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft who had shown stretches of dominance in his previous two seasons before this year's disaster.

On Thursday, he pitched a scoreless first, then gave up two runs in the second on an RBI single and sacrifice fly. In the third, Lance Berkman hit a two-run shot that went 422 feet to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead. They padded it in the fourth on an RBI single by Ryan Theriot and Jon Jay's three-run homer that ended Matusz's night and put the Orioles into an 8-0 hole. It was the ninth home run served up by Matusz in a span of 15 2/3 innings, dating to June 6.

"He was crisper early on, didn't hold it. Some issues with the command again," Showalter said. "His fastball really hasn't been an option."

There have been plenty of theories as to why Matusz has struggled, including speculation that his strength hasn't returned from a spring abbreviated by a wart removal from his pitching hand, a bruised forearm and, finally, the muscle strain.

"Physically, I am 100 percent healthy," Matusz said, but added that he will continue to work on his strength and conditioning in Norfolk with former Oriole Brady Anderson, who has assisted several players with fitness regimens this season.

Showalter said he has to take Matusz's assertions that he is healthy and not dealing with an undisclosed injury.

"I'm not going to sit here and smugly say it's definitely not [a health issue]," Showalter said. "I can only go by what he tells me and what everybody else says. I'm not going to sit here and just say blindly it isn't, but all indications are that it isn't. And that's what's a challenge, because we all want to know why. I'm right there with you."

Matusz's fastball velocity has been down from 92-94 mph in his debut season in 2009 to the mid-80s this year. On Thursday, he hit 90 mph on the stadium radar gun at least once and was consistently at 86-88 mph. The two home runs were both 88 mph fastballs left over the plate.

"My velocity is not there. My command hasn't been there. And I haven't been very durable," Matusz said. "It has been a tough year as a whole, so it is important for me to keep working hard."

He said if he keeps building strength and putting more weight on his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame, "and keep working with my long toss and throwing, my velocity should increase."

When he'll be back is anyone's guess. Showalter said it was too early to speculate. He didn't say who would replace Matusz on the roster, but it likely be left-handed reliever Pedro Viola. It's also possible the Orioles move one of their long relievers -- Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken or Alfredo Simon -- into Matusz's rotation spot.

On Thursday, the Orioles dug too big of a hole against Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia (7-3), whom the Orioles once drafted (30th round in 2004). He was fantastic last year, finishing third in National League Rookie of the Year voting, and has continued that run this season. Heading into Thursday, Garcia had allowed three runs or fewer in each of his past five starts.

He couldn't make it six in a row.

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