Typically most players must play their way through all three of the levels in the minor leagues before they make their major league debut, typically, but not Brian Matusz. In less than fourteen months Brian Matusz made the jump from 2008 1st round draft pick, to making his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles, without ever throwing a single pitch in triple-A. This wasn’t the original plan for Brian Matusz, but due to the mounting injuries to the Orioles starting pitching staff and the fact that Matusz had been virtually unhittable in double-A Bowie, team president Andy MacPhail made the call-up much earlier than previously expected. Brian Matusz took the mound tonight for the Orioles with huge expectations and the 22 year old dazzled in his debut.
From the very first inning Matusz showed why Baseball Prospectus had ranked him as their 19th overall prospect in 2009, why Andy MacPhail drafted him 5th overall in 2008, and why he was 7-0 with a sub 2.00 ERA in Bowie this season. Matusz began the night showing off his 91-94 MPH fastball and a devastating 80-82 MPH changeup that helped him work his way through the beginning of the Tigers lineup. It wasn’t until Matusz found himself in a little trouble during the bottom of the 2nd inning, when he unleashed a slow breaking 77 MPH curveball that had the Detroit hitters looking confused. Just when the opposition thought they had Matusz’s repertoire figured out, he kept them guessing by throwing a slider clocked in the mid 80’s. Even more impressive than watching the 22 year old throw all four of his pitches for strikes in his major league debut, was the way that Matusz had the Tigers batter’s guessing (and many times guessing wrong) on what was coming out of the rookie’s hand.
While those that didn’t watch the game tonight may look at the box score and see less than stellar numbers, the story is told much better than the 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 5 K’s, and 3 BB’s read. Brian Matusz has officially arrived for the Baltimore Orioles and will soon be making serious waves in the American League. What makes Matusz such a successful strikeout pitcher is his slow pitching motion that finishes with an explosive ball being released from his tall and lean 6’5” frame. His pitching motion makes his fastball seem faster than it’s actual clocked speed, thus making his changeup even tougher to hit, mix in that slow breaking curve ball and a tightly rotating slider and it’s easy to see why Matusz entered his debut with a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio in the minor leagues. Matusz did have some struggles in his debut including a 27 pitch second inning, but the Orioles defense (primarily Cesar Izturis) had the rookies back and helped him escape some troubles. Also Matusz was relying too heavily on his changeup at times (he is quoted as saying it’s his favorite pitch), but with a little encouragement and guidance Matusz began throwing his fastball more frequently and effectively.
In the end the Orioles were able to score eight runs and finally the team combined a solid effort from their starter and run support from the bats to win a game on the road versus a team competing for the playoffs. While the notion of realistically competing for a playoff spot of their own still seems at least a couple of more years away for the Orioles, at least we as fans are able to see some of the fruits of over a decade of losing. Brian Matusz now joins Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Chris Tillman on the list of young promising Orioles rookie pitchers to make their major league debut in 2009. At least fans will have something to be excited about when watching the Orioles in August and September. Now if only they had a proven MLB manager.