Matusz and Tillman take their turns

It took much longer than I expected, but I finally made it home last night.

Actually, it was past midnight, so I made it home this morning.

I’ll be heading to Frederick later today to watch Brian Matusz pitch in his first injury rehab game. The memories will come flooding back. And hopefully, that’s the only flooding that takes place, since the forecast includes storms the next five days.

I wonder if the Orioles have a backup plan in case Matusz’s start gets washed away. The last time I checked, Harry Grove Stadium doesn’t have a roof.

I remember interviewing Matusz after one of his first starts for the Single-A Keys in 2009. He wasn’t happy with his fastball command. He also burned to pitch at a higher level, and I’m talking Triple-A or the majors. The Carolina League never felt right to him.

He never made it to Triple-A. He moved up to Double-A Bowie later that summer, and the Orioles called him up Aug. 4.

Matusz is eager to get back into the Orioles’ rotation, but he’s expected to make at least two starts on this rehab assignment. The only exception, which manager Buck Showalter pointed out last week, would be if the bullpen is completely rested and able to cover Matusz through a five-inning start.

Well, the ‘pen isn’t exactly gassed these days, but the plan calls for Matusz to throw 55-60 pitches tonight and 75-80 in his next outing. At least one member of the organization wants Matusz to make a third start in the minors and get up to 100 pitches, but he concedes that the club might not have that luxury.

The sense of urgency has lessened with the rotation turning in six consecutive quality starts, but we’ve seen these spurts before. Remember when it allowed two runs over its first 26 innings - I didn’t look it up, but that sounds right - and soon after we were lamenting how the starters were putting the club in an early hole every night?

Jeremy Guthrie, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton are locks to stay in the rotation. Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen are fighting to hold onto their spots, and Bergesen blackened a few eyes in the Rays clubhouse with his complete-game shutout Saturday afternoon.

It’s Tillman’s turn tonight, and he’s pitching in Fenway Park for the first time in his career. He’s faced the Red Sox once, allowing four runs and five hits, and walking two, in 1 1/3 innings.

Tillman and Bergesen are trying to pitch without looking over their shoulders - that’ll wreck your mechanics - but they know what’s happening. Matusz is beginning his rehab assignment. Alfredo Simon has pitched twice for Bowie and was supposed to join Norfolk tonight, but he flew back to the Dominican. Justin Duchscherer is pitching another simulated game Wednesday at extended spring training and could be activated May 30.

The Orioles aren’t going with a six-man rotation. They aren’t going with an eight-man rotation, either. They’ll need to create room.

Simon could be a long reliever, assuming he isn’t detained in the Dominican. And you know both thoughts have crossed the minds of team officials. They knew when Simon was leaving, but they had no idea when he’d return. The hope is he’s back on a plane later the same night.

Anyway, it’s a big start for Matusz tonight, weather permitting, because he’s finally facing batters who aren’t held back in extended spring training, and it’s a significant step in his eventual return to the Orioles. And it’s a big start for Tillman (aren’t they all?) because he’s not assured of staying in the rotation and he’s pitching in unfamiliar surroundings against a team that just swept the Yankees and is .500 for the first time this season.

I hope you can divide your attention between two games. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing tonight.

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