BALTIMORE -- This is not what anyone envisioned.
From the moment Orioles starter Brian Matusz released an 86-mph offspeed pitch -- dangerously close to his dipping fastball velocity -- to Rays leadoff man Johnny Damon, things went horribly awry. The pitch, Matusz's fifth of the afternoon, was sent flying into the right-field seats, a harrowing beginning to an alarming four-out start in which Matusz didn't have the stuff, command or ability even to hold runners.
"I think there might be something not quite right about Matusz," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the Orioles' lefty, who has been a shell of his former self in all three starts since returning from the disabled list on June 1. "He's not throwing as hard as he used to. So, I'm certain he's not 100 percent."
"We kept hoping he might find his stride a little bit," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Matusz, who turned in the shortest non-injury outing of his career, setting the tone in Sunday's sloppy 9-6 series loss to the Rays.
Asked of his concern level in Matusz's 52-pitch debacle, Showalter said it was about the same as it has been since the Orioles activated the lefty, who broke camp as the team's projected No. 2 starter. Whether Matusz gets another chance to allay the Orioles' concerns remains up in the air.
"I don't know," said a terse Showalter, when asked if Matusz would make his next scheduled start. "We'll sit down. I haven't talked to him yet since he pitched. Brian's a very confident guy. We'll see where he is with it.
"We've been talking to him since last year about holding runners and some things he needs to do. He's just had some challenges. Sometimes, guys have to get ... kind of get in their face a little bit to understand some things, so we'll see where it takes us."
A night removed from a gut-wrenching, extra-innings loss, the Orioles continued to backslide in a game full of errors and ineffective pitching. And it started with Matusz, who not only cast an immediate shadow over Sunday's game, but forced the Orioles to dip into their bullpen in the second inning, with right-hander Alfredo Simon called upon for a 73-pitch outing that was more spot start than relief appearance.
"I don't think holding runners is the biggest problem, right now," said Matusz, who allowed the Rays to steal four bases in the first inning -- and gave up four earned runs on five hits and four walks over 1 1/3 innings.
"It's a matter of being able to get ahead and attack the zone with quality stuff. And obviously, holding runners is part of the game -- that's something I'm going to get better at. But that's not the main issue, right now. It's about being able to throw strikes with all my pitches, and getting ahead and competing a little bit better."
Matusz -- who missed the first two months of the season with a left intercostal muscle strain -- said physically he's "100 percent healthy," although the velocity readings and crispness of his pitches weren't what the Rays were accustomed to dealing with.
"His fastball is down a little," Damon said of Matusz. "He went on the DL early this season, and he just hasn't regained that zip he had the past year. He will. Unfortunately, injuries take a toll on a player. He'll find it soon. ... His fastball wasn't what it was last year -- and we happened to jump on it."
The Orioles immediately closed the first-inning deficit to one, courtesy of back-to-back homers by Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero. But there was no rescuing Matusz, who walked three of the first four batters he faced in the second, and left with the bases loaded in favor of Simon.
The Rays kept tacking on runs, tagging Simon with three -- only one of which was earned -- and scoring on relievers Michael Gonzalez and Jeremy Accardo, as the defense gave way as well. Mark Reynolds was charged with a pair of errors, while Felix Pie was caught trying to steal second while down three runs in the eighth inning.
"I don't think it was a sloppy game," said Jones, who let Evan Longoria's ball slice away and scoot past him for an inside-the-park homer. "The ball just didn't bounce our way. The ball takes hops. We make attempts to catch them. It just didn't happen."
Jones scored another run in the third, doubling off the center-field wall and scoring on Sean Rodriguez's throwing error, which sailed into the stands to grant Jones safe passage home. The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh -- chasing starter Wade Davis from the game. But they could never fully recover from the early hole, managing just a pair of RBI groundouts and Luke Scott's solo homer in the eighth.
Sunday's loss capped a once-promising homestand with a pair of losses that threaten to linger -- although the biggest concern heading into Monday's off-day remains Matusz.
"I'm fine confidence-wise," said Matusz, who is 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. "I know I have the stuff, and what it takes to go out there and get outs and be successful. It's just a matter of getting locked in, and feeling good and getting on a good roll."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.