Double Standard For Brian Matusz?Posted on June 27, 2011
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
If there's one thing Orioles fans know for sure, it's that it can be awfully tough to "grow the arms" without several speed bumps along the way to greatness. And once great, the then not-so-young arms you've grown become awfully expensive.
Lest anyone think a great pitcher is too expensive, I always point to the Orioles with Mike Mussina versus the Orioles without Mussina as Exhibit A.
From Mussina's first full season in 1992 until he left Baltimore after the 2000 season, the Orioles averaged 84 wins per season during seven full seasons. (There were two shortened seasons in 1994 and '95, and it's safe to say the average wins during those two seasons wouldn't have significantly altered that 84-win average.) Since Mussina left town, the Orioles' average number of wins in a season falls dramatically to just 69 wins a season.
While the Orioles from 1984-91 were very rarely competitive, the team was never as perennially bad as this stretch of 13-consecutive losing seasons. With Mussina, the Birds became respectable, moved onto highly competitive and then fell back to mediocrity. However, with an ace such as Mussina in his prime, the likelihood of the Orioles falling into total disarray does not seem likely.
This trip down Memory Lane shows how important an ace pitcher can be. But, it also explains why a downtrodden Orioles franchise drafted Brian Matusz in 2008 as the fourth overall selection in the draft, and why the young pitcher needed to make it and make it quick.
It was the maturity factor that led to inflated expectations going into 2010. The thought was that with Kevin Millwood becoming the titular head of the staff, this young group behind him of Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Matusz would flourish. We all know how that worked out, as Millwood ended up just 4-16 with the worst year of his career and the club had three managers, as the O's had to go 34-23 under Buck Showalter just to win 66 games for the season.
As the 2010 season started, Matusz, like the team in general, floundered mightily out of the gate, suffering a nine-game losing streak between April 29 and June 29. Yet, while Chris Tillman and Bergesen each made three separate trips to Norfolk to work out their issues, Matusz stayed in Baltimore to work on whatever ailed him on the big league level.
Almost as if on cue to when Showalter started on Aug. 2, Matusz went on a roll that stamped him as a finished product -- 6-0 during eight starts, spanning 46 innings pitched, all the while throwing to a dazzling 1.57 ERA. Plus, the Birds won each of his eight starts.
That explains why expectations were so high for this season and why it seemed well within Matusz's reach that he could win 15 or more games this season. But from spring training forward, Matusz hasn't remotely resembled the pitcher that closed last season. His velocity was down in spring training, and that was followed with his strained intercostal muscle just as this season opened.
Since he has come back, Matusz has started five times. His record is 1-3, his ERA is at 6.85, and during just 22.1 innings, he has allowed seven home runs -- this from a pitcher who allowed 19 in 175 innings pitched last season.
It seems fairly obvious that something is askew, but what? Is it mechanical? Is it arm strength? Whatever the issue, it seems that Matusz might be better served working his issues out at Norfolk.
When the team sent both Tillman and Bergesen to the minors May 29, Showalter said: "We need to pitch better. There comes a point where we've got to get better there. And if we are not pitching and taking the experience and making strides, then we need to go back down to Norfolk and work on it."
Yet, when asked Saturday night about why Matusz isn't judged by the same standard, Showalter went out of his way to make it clear the game plan for Matusz is to work out his issues at the major league level.
On Sunday, the day after Matusz's latest debacle, Showalter elaborated to the media what may be behind the seemingly double standard: "It comes down to what do you do to defend yourself?" Showalter said. "How do you give yourself a chance to win?
"In some ways, it may be a positive for his career if you are looking for a silver lining. The good news is he has good secondary pitches, so if he can command them, he should be okay."
The question remains: Why does Matusz get different treatment than the other struggling young pitchers in the organization? The answer may be that Showalter simply feels what doesn't kill Matusz just may make him stronger.
Posted June 27, 2011