O’s spring training: The 25 who will make it (#7)

February 26, 2010 | Drew Forrester

It’s time to go back to the mound for #7 in my O’s spring training blog preview, “The 25 who will make it”.

If you missed Thursday’s profile, here’s what I think about Nick Markakis and his prospects for a successful 2010.

Now, let’s focus on perhaps the team’s biggest question mark:  starting pitching.

The off-season acquisition of Kevin Millwood gives the Birds a definitive, legitimate proven commodity. He’s no Roy Halladay, but he’s an established veteran and reliable enough to give his team a chance to win in 75-80% of his starts.

To me, though, Kevin Millwood isn’t the most important starting pitcher for the O’s in 2010.

That honor – and #7 in the “25 who will make it” profile – goes to left-hander Brian Matusz.

This time last year, Andy MacPhail would break out in hives anytime someone mentioned the mere thought of bringing up Matusz in 2009.  Now, after 8 starts in the big-leagues, it’s apparent to anyone who watched him pitch last year that Matusz has big league stuff and can win, and get hitters out, effective immediately.  That said, I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk he starts the year in Baltimore.  He could go to spring training and struggle or simply not do enough to give Trembley and MacPhail reason to “push him” into the majors to start the season.  I think – as you’ll see below – the chances of that are remote, but it’s fair to at least note that Matusz COULD start the year in Norfolk if he gets off to a slow start in Sarasota.

Odds he’ll be on the roster at the start of the season:  90%

Odds he’ll be on the roster at the end of the season:  100%

Odds he’ll be an effective contributor in 2010:  80%

Odds his name will get mentioned at the trade deadline in late July:  0%

Summary:  If Drew ran the O’s, Matusz would start the season as the team’s #2 pitcher.  He’s cool, calm and definitely capable of handling the perch that goes with being the team’s #2 guy.  Nothing I saw last year indicates otherwise.  He finished 2009 with a 5-2 record and a 4.63 ERA, but that figure was spiked greatly by a 5-earned-run outing over 2.2 innings in Toronto in his 2nd start on August 9. He threw into the 6th inning in 7 of 8 starts and had 38 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 44.2 innings of work.  His WHIP turned out to be higher (1.478) than anyone would like, but that disastrous start in Toronto wreaked havoc with most of his important numbers.  And don’t forget…in a full-season, when you face the Yankees and Red Sox roughly six times, total, your numbers have a tendency to be inflated vs. what you might do against the rest of the league.

Brian Matusz is going to be a rock-star in Baltimore…hopefully they keep him around instead of letting him sign with the Yankees, a’la Mike Mussina.

I liken him to having the make-up of a Tom Glavine-type: good enough fastball (with location) to keep you honest, a nasty breaking ball and a slider that can be used as his “out-pitch” against right handed hitters. That always seemed to be the problem with both Hernandez and Berken last year.  They could get two strikes on a hitter, but getting that 3rd one presented a problem.  In the big leagues, to go from being a decent pitcher to a good pitcher to a great pitcher, ALL of your pitches need to be capable of being used as your out pitch depending on the hitter and the on-base situation behind you.  Matusz can definitely get people out with his off-speed pitches and his fastball will be better as those pitches become a more important part of his arsenel.  Greg Maddux’s fastball looked like a lot different when his slider and breaking ball were dancing around the plate.

Based on his 157 innings of work in 2009 (113 in the minors and 44 in the big leagues), you can assume the O’s will follow the Verducci Rule and only permit Matusz to hover at the 185 inning mark in 2010. That’s fine.  If he has to be shut down on September 18 and miss his final two starts, I’m cool with that. By then, they’ll want to take a look at Britton or Erbe or Patton anyway.

As you can tell…I’m already a card carrying member of the Brian Matusz Fan Club.

Drew’s projections for Matusz in 2010:

* 10-11 record

* 172.2 innings

* 4.29 ERA

* 1.291 WHIP