Matusz enjoys lengthy duel with Longoria
O's lefty fans side in order in first, including Rays All-Star
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Brian Matusz had an impressive Grapefruit League debut Thursday afternoon, as the young Orioles lefty opened his first Spring Training contest with three straight strikeouts against the Rays.
Matusz struck out Tampa Bay leadoff hitter Gape Kapler on an offspeed pitch, then proceeded to blow a fastball by All-Star Carl Crawford, who was late on the heater and went down swinging. Matusz's economical inning went wayward, but he won a 13-pitch battle with Evan Longoria, sending the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year back to the dugout for his third strikeout.
"[Catcher] Craig Tatum was telling me afterwards, Longoria was saying, 'I'm trying to put it in play, I'm really trying to put it in play,'" Matusz said.
Longoria broke two bats in the plate appearance and had to resort to grabbing Pat Burrell's bat -- a small victory for any pitcher.
"It was fun," Matusz said. "It was a good battle, and I know my pitch count got up, but I look at it [as] I think I threw a lot of strikes. My strike percentage was really high. I didn't walk a guy, went deep in a couple counts, but it was all foul balls and things of that sort."
Following a 22-pitch first, Matusz allowed his first baserunner in the second when Carlos Pena reached on an error by second baseman Blake Davis. Matusz struck out Burrell before allowing a full-count homer to Sean Rodriguez, a former Angels prospect acquired in last year's trade for Scott Kazmir.
Rodriguez's drive, aided by the strong breeze at Charlotte Sports Park, sailed over the right-field fence for a two-run shot and spelled the end of Matusz's day.
"Initially, I thought it was going to be a fly ball to right field," Matusz said of the homer. "But with 20-mph winds howling to right field, there's always a chance if you get it up in that jet stream, it'll take it out."
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Baltimore manager Dave Trembley had said earlier that the regular starters' first go-around this spring will be around two innings, or 35 pitches. Matusz threw 36 pitches (28 for strikes) and was pleased with his ability to command his fastball.
"I didn't go off my game plan at all," he said. "Even with that at-bat with Longoria, where it was long, [and he] kept fouling pitches off, I still continued to go in hard with fastballs and I did what I wanted to do."
Added Trembley: "Neither guy gave in, Matusz kept throwing strikes -- that's what he does. He's real good at it."
Matusz estimated he threw about five or six changeups, but did not throw any curveballs. He acknowledged that he knew about his high pitch count and said if the Longoria at-bat was during a regular-season game, he might have changed his approach and tried to be more economical.
Just 23, Matusz is projected to be part of an O's rotation that includes Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen.
The fourth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Matusz dominated through two levels of the Minors last year, going a combined 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA. After a few bumpy starts following his inaugural callup in August, Matusz settled in, going 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA over his last five outings.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.