09/12/09 5:19 PM ET
Roberts, O's back sharp Matusz
Slam in six-run second helps out as rookie baffles Yanks
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
And by doing so, he may have met his artificial innings limit. Matusz (5-2) has now thrown 157 2/3 innings this season split between three levels, and the Orioles don't have a precedent to know how he'll be affected. The left-hander has seemed to grow stronger in his past three starts, but Baltimore wants to err on the side of caution.
That's been the party line in recent weeks, but manager Dave Trembley seemed to stray from it a little on Saturday. Give the Orioles time, he said, and they'll find a way to make some crucial decisions.
"What we'd like to do is enjoy what he did today," Trembley said. "We'll play tomorrow and go back to Baltimore, and on the flight, we'll put all our heads together and see where we're at and we'll make a decision."
And when Trembley says "we," he means himself, Matusz, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations. That quartet will weigh the risks versus the rewards of letting their prized prospects continue to pile up innings, but Matusz has said the same thing all along.
"I don't want to stop throwing, especially when I'm in the groove I am right now," Matusz said. "I feel like I'm really healthy and really in a good groove. I wouldn't like to end the season, but if it was the last start -- if that's what Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley decide on -- then that's how it is and it would be nice to go out on a good note."
Matusz, the fourth overall selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, came to the Orioles after logging a 4-2 record with a 2.16 ERA for Class A Frederick and a 7-0 record with a 1.55 mark for Double-A Bowie. And after some initial struggles in the Majors, Matusz has completed seven innings in each of his past three outings.
His ERA has dropped by nearly two runs (from 6.46 to 4.63) over that span, but more importantly, Matusz has begun to find a comfort zone. The rookie allowed two hits in the first inning on Saturday, and then he allowed just two more for the rest of his outing. Meanwhile, the Orioles (58-83) set about giving him a one-sided lead.
New York (91-52) had scored against Matusz in the first inning, but Baltimore busted back for six runs in the second. Nolan Reimold started that rally with a solo home run, and Brian Roberts capped it with the fifth grand slam of his career. From there, Matusz controlled the game and worked to his highest pitch count (106).
"I thought it was the best start of the year," said Matusz. "I felt really good. It's tough in this type of atmosphere: Yankee Stadium, sold-out crowd. The first hitter that came up, [Derek] Jeter, everyone [gave] a standing ovation. I felt it a little bit. It was pretty cool, pretty exciting. But I was able to relax, to just go out there and have fun."
"Pitch after pitch, he sort of kept them from getting any momentum," added catcher Matt Wieters. "He made every pitch like it was important, which it was. That was even an improvement on the last outing, I think."
Roberts, the second-longest tenured member of the Orioles, fell a triple short of hitting for the cycle. The switch-hitter fought off a 1-2 count against opposing starter A.J. Burnett to hit his grand slam, and later in the game, he tied his own career high and his own franchise record by lacing his 51st double of the season.
Still, if you ask Roberts, his dominant memory of this series so far is the success of Baltimore starters Matusz and Chris Tillman. The Orioles won an emotionally fraught game on Friday night that featured Jeter becoming the all-time Yankees hit king, a pair of lengthy rain delays and a conclusion that didn't end until nearly 2 a.m. ET.
"Last night was such a blur," Roberts said. "I think we all got here and we were just trying to somehow get ready to play. But I think the two games together are great for us. Certainly for Tillman and Matusz to go out there and pitch against [Andy] Pettitte and Burnett and give us two wins in Yankee Stadium on a weekend where there's been a lot of energy with Jeter's record and all that, I think it's good for us as a team and it's great for the young pitchers."
Matusz admitted to tiring toward the end of his outing, but the Orioles still pushed him to his limit. And when he got there, they learned even more about his resolve. Matusz put two runners on base and fell behind 3-0 against Jorge Posada, but he worked back to strike him out and then put Jeter down on a 1-2 changeup.
"That's just having guts to be able to throw three strikes down the middle and to be able to get that swing-and-miss pitch," said Wieters. "The pitch to Jeter was pretty special. Jeter was fouling off pitches and fouling off pitches, and he made a perfect pitch, was able to get him out in front of and swing over the top of it."
"It's just me and Matty back there behind the plate focusing in on what I need to do," added Matusz. "I was able to make some good pitches today. I was able to run the fastball in on guys, work the curveball well, get ahead. The changeup was effective. My best changeup was the last pitch to Jeter, to strike him out. I told myself on that pitch, 'Make sure you bury it. Throw it in the dirt and let him chase it.' And it worked out to be the right pitch."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.