Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Brian Matusz, 2011 Bowman International Foil #28
Matusz's poor and injury-marred 2011 season was one of the most discouraging things I've witnessed as an Orioles fan. The lefty had been the most polished of the Birds' young arsenal of pitchers, and he raised expectations by finishing 2010 with a 7-1 record and a 2.18 ERA over the final two months. He didn't show up in top shape last spring, however, and missed all of April and May with a strained intercostal muscle in his ribcage. When he finally showed up in June, he was missing velocity, control, and confidence. His earned run average got higher with each progressive start but one, with a midsummer demotion to Norfolk offering no answers. Brian finished 1-9 with an unsightly 10.69 ERA in 12 starts, a record-setting mark for futility with such a high workload. He showed signs of life this spring, but it was the same old story once the games counted. Losses in each of his first 3 appearances, with 11 walks, 11 strikeouts, and 15 runs (13 earned) in 14.2 innings. He looked better in his last start this past Thursday in Toronto, clearing six innings with four hits and a couple of walks allowed, but an ill-timed error by Johnson at first base cost him a chance at his first win. But even moral victories count for something, right?
Tonight was the first of Brian's 2012 starts that I watched, and he looked strong. After giving up a first-inning solo homer to Curtis Granderson, he kept the Yankees off the scoreboard and waited on the run support that had eluded him in his first four outings. He induced a lot of weak contact in the form of pop-ups, and didn't walk a batter until tiring in the seventh inning. Perhaps most importantly, he kept his composure after consecutive one-out singles by Derek Jeter and Granderson in the third inning. Matusz retired Alex Rodriguez on a comebacker to the mound and got Oriole killer Robinson Cano to pop out to right-center field. The young pitcher's final line: 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 6.1 IP, and best of all, a W. It's too early to make definitive judgments, but Brian's earned run average has gotten progressively lower in each of his 2012 starts, and it's now 4.67. Last year it jumped to 5.11 in his third start (June 12) and never recovered.
Everything looks a little better after a big win.