Baltimore Orioles: Brian Matusz – Coming or Going?


Mar 5, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Brian Matusz (17) pitches during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What is the story with the Baltimore Orioles and Brian Matusz going into the 2015 season? He has had reasonably good success as a reliever, particularly in the second half of last year. But the Orioles are stretching him out this spring and are even going to give him a start today (Saturday) against the Tampa Bay Rays.

This seems odd. It is not like the Orioles need more starters; they already have at least one too many. And T.J. McFarland is the presumed long-man lefty, having been very effective in this role.

This seems odd. It is not like the Orioles need more starters; they already have at least one too many. And T.J. McFarland is the presumed long-man lefty, having been very effective in this role.

The official line coming from Buck Showalter is that this will allow Matusz to work on all of his pitches in an extended outing. And that could certainly be a benefit. As well, it does not hurt at all to have bullpen pitchers able to pitch more than one inning.

I frankly do not think tossing multiple innings is expected and accomplished anywhere near enough throughout the sport in this era. That is a valuable skill. If the first reliever in the game in the sixth or seventh innings throws only eight or nine pitches and looks very good, why not send him back out for a few more batters. Every time there is a change of pitchers, there is the risk of introducing someone who might not be going to have his best stuff.

But back to Matusz: the suspicion is that the Orioles may be stretching him out as trade bait for a late preseason move to a team needing additional pitching help. I will opine that, though I think the reasons listed above are genuine in the thinking of the organization, I do believe this is an additional potential reason. I have written on this theme several times in past months, as have others.

Additionally, Roch Kubatko wrote yesterday of an interesting health issue that Matusz has been dealing with for some time. Apparently a history of moderately high blood pressure had elevated to a significantly high level, necessitating a prescriptive intervention. Matusz reports feeling the best he has in several years, speaking of previous times where he would feel exhausted even with sufficient sleep. There is of course the commonly-known accompanying issue of some measure of anxiety with elevated blood pressure.

Could this account for some of the excessive, nervous activity seen in Matusz on the mound? He never looks comfortable and has a variety of nervous twitches, habits, and stretches (though this is far from rare among MLB players). Matusz also often looks unusually flushed in the face when pitching, frequently sweating profusely in spite of the weather conditions. Could this all be related?

Matusz has had both the best of times and the worst of times with the Orioles. Early on in his career he had games as a starter where he completely controlled the opposing lineup. But then came the horrific season of 2011 before being sent to the bullpen.

Though there have been some occasional struggles as a reliever, the overall picture has been quite positive. Opponents were a combined 14-for-80 (.175) in July, August and September last year.

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If something as basic as getting blood pressure under control could be a difference-maker for the former first-round / fourth-overall pick in 2008, that would be a significant moment in his life and for the Orioles organization.

In other news, piling on Ubaldo Jimenez and picking on his poor performances is about as much sport as catching fish in a child’s swimming pool. But only with UJ could a three-run, four-inning performance be seen as an improvement. Hey, he didn’t walk anyone! He did hit a batter and throw two wild pitches however. So, throwing wild pitches at a 4.5-per game pace is now applauded. There is a lot of ground yet to cover, but it is difficult to muster any faith that this is going to actually work.

Next: Looking at Orioles spring records of the past