I can only get so excited when Brian Matusz strands two with a pair of strikeouts in a beautiful Orioles victory over the Red Sox in Fenway Park. He’s a former first round pick, this guy is supposed to be doing that in the starting rotation, not as a lefty specialist. I haven’t let go of Matusz in the starting five, but there’s certainly no denying his success as a relief pitcher.
Matusz has stranded all 17 base runners (3 in 2013) he’s inherited since becoming a reliever last season. In 2012, Matusz induced ground balls 40 percent of the time and as a reliever he held batters to a .113 average over 16 1/3 innings pitched.
Part of this effectiveness has to do with his approach of going right at hitters. In four innings this season, Matusz has induced four ground balls and 30 of his 52 pitches have been strikes. Out of the pen in 2012, Matusz’s K/BB ratio was 6.33 (3/19). He also posted a stellar .167 BABIP as a reliever a year ago.
With a reputation as a strikes thrower, Matusz is now beginning to get away with throwing pitches outside of the zone and having batters chase pitches they’re guessing will be strikes. A prime example of this was Thursday night in Fenway when he fanned Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt.
Most impressive part of that strikeout? He came back after falling behind 3-0.
It’s difficult to tell if Matusz’s success as a reliever would translate into effectiveness as a starter. He hasn’t thrown more than 25 pitches in any of his 22 appearances in relief. Is he only this successful in small doses? How would he fare two or three times through a lineup?
Right now, the Orioles have a good thing going with Brian Matusz. As long as their rotation remains healthy, I think they have enough depth both in Baltimore and down on the farm (did you see what Kevin Gausman in Bowie on Thursday?!?!) to keep Matusz in the bullpen.