LAKELAND, Fla. - The Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning after Brian Matusz left the game, and they tacked on another run in the seventh to increase their lead to 4-2 over the Orioles at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Detroit loaded the bases with one out against Miguel Socolovich, and he was removed for Jon Link. Socolovich walked into the clubhouse with assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel while reporters were interviewing Matusz.
Chris Davis committed his second error today, this one on a throw, so one of the runs was unearned.
Ryan Flaherty has moved from shortstop to third base. Steve Tolleson is playing shortstop and Joe Mahoney has taken over at first base. Trent Mummey is in center field and Scott Beerer is in right. John Hester has moved behind the plate.
The last time Matusz faced the Tigers, he allowed five runs and 10 baserunners in five innings in his final start on Sept. 25. The result left him 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA.
He insisted that he wasn’t thinking about that game today. He just wanted to build on his last outing this spring against the Phillies.
“That was important to come back with a solid outing after a good one, but for me they’re all the same. They’re all important,” he said.
“I just went out there and attacked the zone with (Ronny) Paulino. He told me before the game, ‘Let’s have fun.’ So, OK, I went out there and had fun with it.”
The Tigers fielded their A lineup, which made Matusz’s performance all the more impressive - no runs, two hits, no walks, six strikeouts in four innings.
“It’s a tough lineup,” he said. “They have a lot of big hitters. It doesn’t matter. Every team at this level is good, and you’ve got to go out there and attack the zone.
“I was working on my stuff, keeping the hitters off-balance and throwing strikes. Every pitch, 100 percent intent, just attacking the zone.”
Matusz and Paulino were on the same page all afternoon.
“It was great,” he said. “I threw my first bullpen with Paulino this week, so I had a chance to control it a little bit. It was great. We mixed it up, kept hitters off-balance, and like you said, had fun with it.”
Matusz threw 41 of his 60 pitches for strikes.
“I felt like I had really good command,” he said. “A couple of pitches were off. I missed. A couple of balls were cut that I didn’t plan on, but for the most part, I had good command.”
The next step for Matusz is “getting back on track with Brady Anderson in the weight room. Hit the weights and plan for the next outing,” he said.
It’s hard to tell these days, but Matusz says he’s having fun. He just seems a lot more serious when talking to reporters.
“I had a great time out there today,” he said. “Have a great group of guys on this team. Guys keeping it loose, having fun. Makes it a lot easier with the type of team we have.”
It’s obvious that Matusz has his confidence back after a rough 2011.
“Sure, every game of success is a confidence builder,” he said. “Keep it going.”
Note: Zach Britton tossed two scoreless, hitless innings against the Red Sox Triple-A team at Twin Lakes Park. He threw 31 pitches while recording eight outs - the rules are flexible - and threw four more pitches in the bullpen.