Notebook: Matusz throws shutout for Norfolk, but return to O's uncertain

Showalter says pitcher has 'really made some strides' after he holds one of top teams in International League to 5 hits

August 11, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Lefty Brian Matusz, who was demoted to Triple-A in June after a rough stretch in the majors, threw his best game for Norfolk on Thursday — a shutout against one of the best teams in the International League.

What that performance means for his future return to Baltimore, though, is not certain.

It's possible Matusz, who was penciled in as the club's No. 2 starter this spring before an intercostal muscle strain landed him on the disabled list, could be back soon — perhaps during the Orioles' upcoming 10-game road trip.

That hasn't been determined yet.

"If everybody feels like he's ready to come back, he will. At some point that will happen," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "But until we get all the [information], I've got other things going on. But I'm just proud that he pitched well."

On Thursday, Matusz allowed five hits and a walk while striking out eight batters in the Tides' 7-0 win over the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies' top affiliate. He threw 105 pitches, an impressive 74 for strikes. He threw his fastball consistently between 88 mph and 89 mph and topped out at 91, according to a club official.

The slight jump in velocity has been monitored because his fastball had been sitting in the mid-80s while with the Orioles.

"He's been a little tick up each time out," said Showalter, who followed some of Matusz's start online but did not didn't have a full report before his daily news conference. "He's really made some strides down there. I'm proud of him."

Matusz is 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA in nine starts for Norfolk and has allowed four earned runs in his last 23 innings (1.57 ERA) at Triple-A. That's a huge improvement from his 1-4 record and 8.77 ERA in six starts with the Orioles this season.

The big league club's starting rotation is a continual work in progress, so an effective Matusz would be a welcome relief. But the Orioles have to determine how much more he needs to work on before a promotion.

"He's pitching well down there, he's making strides, continue to do it," Showalter said. "We'll see."

Buy the bats, lease the arms

With Matusz in Triple-A, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta on the disabled list, and Brad Bergesen, Jim Johnson and Jason Berken in the bullpen, the Orioles have no homegrown pitchers in their current rotation for the first time in more than two years.

With Chris Tillman's outing Thursday, the Orioles continued a string of seven straight games started by pitchers they did not draft: Tommy Hunter (two), Tillman (two) and one each by Alfredo Simon, Jeremy Guthrie and Jo-Jo Reyes.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the longest such streak for the Orioles since the beginning of the 2009 season, when the club had 13 games started by pitchers it didn't draft — Guthrie, Simon, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton — before Bergesen started Game No. 14.

Of the five pitchers to start during the current streak, Guthrie and Reyes were obtained through waivers, Tillman and Hunter were acquired in trades, and Simon was signed as a free agent out of the Mexican League.

Showalter hopes Arrieta has smooth recovery

Right-hander Jake Arrieta will have a bone spur removed from his right elbow by Dr. Lewis Yocum on Friday in California, which will officially end his season. Showalter believes it should help Arrieta come back next spring more confident than he was the past few weeks.

"If everything goes well [Friday], I'm looking forward to him having that challenge out of the way," Showalter said. "It was a physical thing for him, but it had gotten to the point where it was a mental thing too. It was very frustrating for him because he knew what he is capable of doing, he just couldn't do it as games wore on."

Arrieta finished the season leading the club in wins. He was 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 20 starts. He expects to be able to pick up a ball in late November or early December as part of his regular offseason routine. He will remain in Texas to do his rehab but will visit Baltimore once or twice to check in with the club.

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