Matusz intent on making 2012 matter

SARASOTA, Fla. - Position players must report to camp today. Third baseman Josh Bell and outfielder Jai Miller arrived this morning.

Outfielder Endy Chavez might be the last player to check into the Ed Smith Stadium complex. I haven’t seen Steve Tolleson, but one of the reporters here says that he’s pretty sure that he spotted the infielder earlier this week. I’m taking his word for it.

Brian Matusz threw his second bullpen session yesterday, and his first outdoors in a more structured setting. The reviews have been positive.

“I felt good,” he said. “I felt nice and loose. The ball was coming out of my hand with no effort and it was coming out nice. I feel like the stuff is there. Just a little bit inconsistent right now, but I’m on a good track. I feel good about these upcoming weeks.”

Matusz worked out with Brady Anderson in Irvine and said he’s definitely stronger and “a little bit more confident.”

“I’m very excited. Definitely a big difference,” he said.

“My power numbers are way up, and a lot faster, too, which should bring more explosion off the mound. It feels really good.”

Matusz is looking for a rebound season after going 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA and 49 2/3 innings. He made 12 starts with the Orioles and nine at Triple-A Norfolk. He lost games and confidence.

“Last year was tough,” said Matusz, who began the season on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. “It was a really tough year. There was that feeling that I didn’t want to feel again. It was motivation to get out there this offseason and work hard and really get after it. I feel like I definitely put in the time this offseason, so I’m excited to see the hard work pay off.

“Last year was a lot of negatives. Nobody wants to experience struggles, but after going through them, I was able to learn a lot from them. Never get complacent with anything. Just being able to battle and grind through the entire season and never give in.

“Working with Brady was obviously important on the strength and conditioning side. Even working with Rick Adair on some mechanical problems that went wrong. And I spent a lot of time talking to my Dad, getting back to where I was as a younger kid and getting back to the things that worked well for me. Having those guys around has been really helpful.”

Matusz isn’t the type of pitcher who studies video of his mechanics. He goes more by “feel.”

“It’s hard to remember what that old form felt like, especially after all the struggles of last year and really being out of my element,” he said. “I’m starting to really feel like that old form is coming back, being able to have confidence on the mound and just being athletic and letting the ball just come out with a lot of conviction behind the ball.”

Asked if last year became a mental issue, Matusz replied: “It’s one of those things where if things aren’t going your way, it’s tough to dig yourself out of a hole. Physically, I felt strong last year. It’s just the results weren’t there. But that’s over and done with. I’m ready to move forward this season and just be able to go out, have fun and compete and play the game that I loved playing as a kid.”

He’s hoping to play it at the major league level, beginning with the April 6 opener against the Twins, but there’s plenty of competition.

“There’s a lot of young talented arms, and with the addition of (Wei-Yin) Chen and (Tsuyoshi) Wada coming in, two left-handed arms, it’s going to create a lot of competition, it’s going to be fun this spring,” Matusz said.

Can he make the team if he pitches like the 2010 version of Brian Matusz?

“Absolutely. That’s my mindset,” he said. “Just compete and be myself, mainly. Just go out and focus on the things I do well and to be able to compete and have fun with it at the same time.”

John Hester caught Matusz in Norfolk and again yesterday for the bullpen session.

“The ball was coming out of his hand very well yesterday, nice and easy,” Hester said. “You can tell that his attitude’s changed a little bit. He’s a little more determined to get things done. He’s a man on a mission right now.

“Mechanically, everything kind of looks the same, but I think that mentally, upstairs, there’s a difference.”

Hester caught Matusz on his good and bad days at Norfolk.

“Last year was just tough for him,” Hester said. “He couldn’t find a consistency where he’d go from one outing to the next pitching well. And I think it’s important for him to do that this year.

“From what I saw last year and what I saw yesterday, his mechanics are pretty much the same. He’s not trying to reinvent himself. He’s just trying to go back to what’s always worked for him. It’s a mental mindset to get things going again.”

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