Is Brian Matusz finished?

July 02, 2012 | James Finn

Have we seen the last of Brian Matusz? His trouble this season has been apparent. At only 25 years old, maybe he can rebound, but allow me to express my skepticism.

As you all know by now, following a 6-2 loss to the Indians Sunday, in which Matusz surrendered 5 runs in his 4 plus innings of work, he was optioned down to Triple-A Norfolk.   He follows Tommy Hunter as the second Starting Pitcher to be demoted to the minors in as many days.  Steve Johnson has been called up to complete the 25 man roster, and will join the Bullpen on the final road trip before the All-star game.

The Orioles starting pitching has been a huge contributor to a bad stretch as a team, and Brian has undoubtedly been the worst offender.  Since June 2, after his best outing this season, Matusz has lost his last 5 starts, notching a 8.44 ERA, and an eye popping 2.48 WHIP.

Many times I’ve heard the philosophy that if you give a pitcher a lead, it relaxes him, takes the pressure off, etc.  I think the same can be said for the Offense.  If the pitchers goes out and puts a team in a hole early, it’s hard to dig out, puts too much pressure on your hitters.  They become overzealous, swing at bad pitches, try to force things to happen, and leads to disastrous results. By this account, Brian Matusz hasn’t done much to help the offense.

We’ve seen the bad side of Matusz before.  In his 2011 campaign, he started on the DL, was sent back down to the minors after a 1-4 stint to work on mechanics and velocity, only to come back up to the majors, finishing the year 1-9, with a historically bad 10.69 ERA. (It’s the worst of any qualifying pitcher in an individual season…look it up).

The biggest hurdle I think Matusz has, and may never overcome, is his confidence.  He obviously has the tools, he had a stretch this season where he was effective, and even churned out a few consecutive victories.  I don’t think he believes in himself, and through his own lack of faith in his ability, the fans turn on him, and begins a downward spiral.  He stands on the mound drenched in pounds of his own sweat, regardless of the season, with a sad disposition reminiscent of boy without a date for prom.

His most recent demotion won’t do his confidence any good, and if this were any other season, we could keep Matusz on the main roster.  However, if we will seriously compete for a playoff birth this season, the Orioles cannot keep Matusz around while he gets his head right.  We have enough options down in Norfolk (Britton, Tillman, Bergesen, Willis, Berken) where we can continue to shuffle the roster until we find something that works.  There is even the chance of trying to procure a starter through trade, but management has stated they want to fix the roster internally first, before seeking elsewhere.

As for his future, I don’t see one for him here in Baltimore.  My prediction is he finishes the season in Norfolk. He’s in the final season of his contract, and I can’t see the Orioles resigning him.  It’d be a less popular move then if the Ravens tried to sign Heinz Ward.  He’ll see a contract from some other team, maybe he’ll make it back to the big show, but he’s never going to be that dominant pitcher the Orioles wanted him to be when they drafted him.

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