The Continuing Struggles Of Baltimore Orioles Starter Brian Matusz

By Mark Hock

After a fantastic Spring Training, there was hope that Brian Matusz would take the next step forward this season. His 2011 season was one of the worst in the history of the majors, as he threw just under 50 innings with a 10.69 ERA. That’s not a typo, Matusz allowed more than 1 run an inning last season. His velocity dropped to 88 MPH, several clicks lower than the 91 MPH fastball he showed back in 2009.

The velocity is back this year, as Matusz is averaging 90 MPH on his fastball. But it doesn’t seem to matter, as he simply can’t find the strike zone. In 9 2/3 innings this season, Matusz has 8 walks against 5 strikeouts, which has resulted in a 8.38 ERA. Matusz didn’t pull any punches when he was speaking to reporters:

“Coming out with two straight wins against Toronto, I wanted to come out and get the sweep today,” said Matusz, who instead ran his career-high losing streak to 11, the longest-active losing streak in the Majors.  “This is so frustrating, you know. I know what went on last year, I know it was a horrible year and so far I’m off to a horrible start, at 0-2. And it’s building up. And it’s frustrating, and it’s flat-out not getting the job done.”

“I was really erratic out of the windup today, never found a rhythm,” said Matusz, who allowed seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts.  “At times when I got ahead in the count, I didn’t make the quality pitch to finish it. [I] just flat out didn’t get the job done.

“Those are key at bats right there, getting ahead of [Jose] Bautista and not being able to finish him off, leadoff double, and then getting ahead of Encarnacion and throwing a horrible slider that he hit out. I got to get that ball down and make better pitches.”

The Baltimore Orioles may have a weak starting rotation, but they can’t afford to simply toss Matusz out there every fifth day if he’s pitching like this. He should get an opportunity to prove himself, but if he can’t find his control then it might be best for him to be sent to AAA. It doesn’t do him any good if his confidence is destroyed, and pitching in AAA would allow him to pitch without the pressure of letting the major league team down.

Facing the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays isn’t an ideal start for a struggling pitcher. However, Matusz is in the American League for the foreseeable future, and he’s going to need to learn how to beat these teams.

One of the problems Matusz faces is he doesn’t get ahead of hitters often enough. He has a 57.5% first strike rate, which sounds impressive at first glance. However, that kind of first pitch strike rate would be ranked 81/94 as of 2011. Matusz is also doing a poor job of fooling hitters, as they’re only swinging at 5.9% of his pitches. Ideally he should be closer to 10%, and it means that hitters aren’t fooled by his stuff.

Matusz isn’t a hopeless cause, and he still has plenty of time. But if he ever wants to rebound and be more than a career minor leaguer, he better figure out where the ball is going. Because even the Orioles can’t afford to let him pitch like this for too much longer.

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