Matusz makes strides in win over Tribe
Rookie starter gives best performance of short career
BALTIMORE -- For the first time in his brief Major League career, Brian Matusz finally felt comfortable and completely in control. And one afternoon was all the rookie left-hander needed to validate the visualization process he undertook to try to recapture the dominant performances that pushed him quickly through the Minors and into the Orioles' rotation.
Matusz struck out eight over seven four-hit innings, Felix Pie homered in a four-run fourth and the Orioles beat the Indians, 5-2, on Sunday afternoon to earn a split in their four-game series.
"I was trying to do too much, a lot of mechanical things that [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and I broke down on video," Matusz said. "I looked at video of when I pitched in Bowie, when I was pounding all my pitches. Then I took some video of when I was throwing here. I was trying to do too much, extending my arm too far back, trying to overpower it instead of trying to stay compact."
But the video review was only one step in the process. Matusz worked hard since his past start to mimic the patterns, preparation and production he achieved at Double-A Bowie before he was recalled on Aug. 4.
"I've been working all week, trying to figure out what happened, what's been going on, what happened, why I haven't been consistently pounding the strike zone with all my pitches. I kind of just visually broke it down and went back to seeing, visualizing how I felt when I was at my best," Matusz said.
And what did he discover?
"I was trying to do too much, trying to make the curveball that much better, when in reality I just need to throw it and go back to being comfortable on the mound," he explained. "And I felt that, I felt comfortable the whole time. I felt I could throw a strike whenever I needed to. I got ahead of hitters and I worked backwards with breaking pitches, fastballs. I did everything today. I did what I know how to do best and I did good."
Making his sixth Major League start, Matusz (3-2) didn't allow a hit until Jhonny Peralta lined a single to left off an 0-1 fastball leading off the fifth. Matusz also walked one in his longest outing since being recalled from Double-A Norfolk to make his debut at Detroit on Aug. 4.
"There have been times this year where I think a lot of these kids think harder is better and faster is better and quicker is better," manager Dave Trembley said. "And that's not how he pitches. He pitches nice and easy, so he gets some movement with his fastball and he can pitch in and the other pitches come out of his hand real loose."
The only baserunner before Peralta's hit was Asdrubal Cabrera, who reached first on a fourth-inning walk when Matusz went to his mouth while on the dirt of the mound when the count was 3-1, an infraction that resulted in an automatic ball called by third-base umpire Bob Davidson.
Matusz was surprised but not rattled when Cabrera was sent to first base because of his transgression.
"I was just kind of wondering what I did," said Matusz. "I didn't realize I went from my hand to my mouth at all until I went to the video. ... I don't think it got me out of a groove at all. That's just one of the things I've got to remember: I can't go to my mouth."
It's a lesson Trembley doesn't think the rookie will forget.
"A lot of guys, that would have played with their head probably and got them out of sync. He regrouped," Trembley said.
Baltimore got to Indians right-hander Justin Masterson for a 4-0 lead in the third, exploiting two errors in the process. Ty Wigginton led off with a single, moved up when right fielder Shin-Soo Choo bobbled his hit and scored when third baseman Jamey Carroll sailed the throw on Brian Roberts' infield hit. Pie followed with a two-run homer over the wall in center and Adam Jones drew a walk and scored on a two-out double by Luke Scott.
Beginning with the Aug. 14 game in which he hit for the cycle, Pie has batted .383 (18-for-47) with five homers and 12 RBIs, earning additional playing time and Trembley's trust.
"Pie has improved since the All-Star break," said Trembley. "Moving [Aubrey] Huff [in a trade to Detroit] has opened up a spot in the lineup for Pie. We told him he was going to get the majority of playing time against right-handed pitching, and this is an opportunity for him coming down the last 35 games or so to show what he's got and then go home this winter and put it to bed and see what you've got for next year. And so far, he's doing a real nice job. He's taking advantage of his opportunity."
Matusz finally ran into a little trouble in the sixth, but he quickly extricated himself from a jam after Grady Sizemore tripled off the wall in center and scored on Carroll's RBI single to center. Choo's two-out single sent Carroll to third, but Matusz finished off a swinging strikeout, getting Peralta to fish at a 1-2 curveball.
"[Matusz] doesn't put his foot all the way down on the pedal," said Trembley. "If anything, he backs off and he just allows his stuff to work for him."
Masterson (4-6) lasted 5 2/3 innings, leaving after Roberts' sacrifice fly made it 5-1. He allowed five runs on eight hits, walked four and fanned six.
Jim Johnson worked a perfect ninth for his seventh save.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.