They need help everywhere.
Maybe it’s Josh Bell’s time again. He’s striking out too much - seven more times in his last three games at Triple-A Norfolk- but he’s hitting .294 with three homers and nine RBIs in nine games this month, and .260 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs for the season. Let him be the designated hitter. Give him some starts at third base and let Mark Reynolds be the DH.
The Orioles are down to two healthy reserves. That won’t cut it. They need another bat.
They also need someone who can catch the ball in left field. Bell wouldn’t help in that area, but you can’t ignore a season-long problem.
In fairness to Felix Pie, he’s a center fielder trying to play left. Not everyone can make that switch. But he’s the defensive replacement on this club, and that speaks volumes about the lack of options - his and the Orioles.
Chris Tillman threw 98 pitches, 58 for strikes, in six innings last night for Norfolk. He allowed two runs and three hits, with five walks and four strikeouts. He’s sporting a 4.12 ERA.
Jeremy Accardo gave up the lead in the bottom of the seventh, and Gwinnett won in 11 innings.
It’s a natural progression to go from Tillman to Brian Matusz, so I’ll do it here.
Matusz spent the break in Norfolk instead of flying home. He wanted to continue working out there.
Matusz will make his third start tonight since the Orioles optioned him. He’s allowed six runs and 13 hits in 11 innings, with five walks and nine strikeouts.
“I feel like my last start was a big jump for me,” he said. “I got all the way up to (105) pitches. I was a little bit inconsistent at times, but I showed signs of having four really good pitches, and that’s important for me. I know it’s there and I know it’s coming back. I just have to be more consistent, attack hitters and be more confident with my stuff. And it’s coming around.
“I feel a lot more comfortable out there. It’s all coming back to me. My velocity is coming back up a little bit. I believe it was 87 to 91, from what I heard. I’m feeling good and I know I’m on the right track, doing all the right things. I’m getting to where I want to be.”
It sounds like the confidence has returned. That’s a big step.
Matusz said he’s “100 percent confident” that the velocity on his fastball also will return.
“The reason it went down was mainly because of strength. It hasn’t been there in my arm, legs and body. It’s just a matter of time for it to come back,” he said.
“For me, I know I can pitch at the big league level. I don’t need be throwing 93, 94. I can pitch at that level at 90. I’m in the low 90s, high 80s. I’ve done it before. It’s just a matter of being consistent, keeping the ball down in the zone and mixing it up. That’s the reason why I have four pitches, to be able to mix them up.”
Matusz welcomed the chance to be reunited with Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin, who’s been an instructor at spring training and is familiar with him. They have a solid relationship.
“We’ve been getting back to getting my mechanics where my lower half and upper half are working together,” Matusz said. “He’s a great guy to work with. He’s always keeping me on my toes, always making me think, so when I get back out there on the mound and it’s just me on the mound, I’m able to make adjustments on my own. And he does a good job of making me feel confident, knowing my stuff is there and getting the feel back. He does a good job relating to players in a positive way. He’s been there before. He been in the big leagues for many years and knows exactly what it’s like when pitchers struggle and get out of the zone.”
Matusz is like the quarterback who has a different offensive coordinator every season. He’s been exposed to four pitching coaches since September.
“Every pitching coach has his own philosophies and different ways to get through to guys,” he said. “It’s been tough switching pitching coaches. It’s never easy, but right now I’m in a good spot working with Griff. He’s been able to see me the last three years now and that’s been the biggest thing. He knows what it’s like when I’m locked in and how to get me back to where I need to be.”
That means going back to his old delivery.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Everything I worked on in spring training, that’s thrown away. I’ve gone back to being myself, the person that got me to the big leagues and got me to be successful in the big leagues. And that’s the best thing working with Griff. He’s seen me in spring training when I was locked in, and that’s what he’s getting me back to. It didn’t go away. It doesn’t just go away. It’s just a matter of working hard and getting back to where I was. And that’s all I can do. Go out and have fun and treat the game like I used to.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed frustration over Matusz’s inability to hold runners, but the left-hander has picked off three in his two starts.
“That’s the one thing I’ve definitely worked on,” he said. “I’m focusing on being quicker to home plate with guys on first and second, and being able to read guys and know when they’re stealing.”
Matusz has been working out with Brady Anderson in an attempt to improve his conditioning, which suffered while he was on the disabled list with a strained intercostal. Matusz said he lost seven pounds, which is significant when you’re carrying a thin frame.
“It’s a pretty good regimen, a consistent regimen every day, whether it’s speed or strength,” Matusz said. “He’s giving me a lot of knowledge on how to take care of my body by eating properly and doing all the right things. It’s not just one piece of the game. It’s a mixture of everything coming together at the same time.
“I came into spring training and didn’t continue working as hard as I should have, and with the injury, it was difficult for me to keep that strength on and keep that muscle mass on. I lost it over the course of two months. That’s one thing I’ve been able to work on the last few weeks, getting my strength back, and that’s where the velocity comes back. I was a little behind with the injury, but I’m starting to see the results of the muscle mass I’ve gained. I went down about seven pounds in weight. Now I’m starting to see the results of weight being put back on, but in muscle mass rather than bad weight.
“It’s a process to get to where I need to be. It just takes a little bit of time. But it’s all coming together slowly, one day at a time.”