ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Brian Matusz worked a season-high 7 1/3 innings today in a 2-1 win over the Rays before 21,693 at Tropicana Field. It was his longest outing since Aug. 19, 2010, when he pitched eight innings against the Rangers.
“It’s as good as I’ve felt in a while,” he said. “I like pitching here in The Trop. You expect it to be 72 degrees every time you go out there to pitch, so it’s nice.
“I had a great feel. Worked well with (Matt) Wieters. And the defense was great. The bullpen came in and did their job. Pedro (Strop) was awesome getting that double play and Jim Johnson did what he does, closing the door.”
Matusz had to feel a little more satisfaction knowing he ended the club’s six-game losing streak.
“Any time I step on the mound, I want to go out there and compete and bring my best game. But to end the losing streak is definitely a good feeling,” he said. “It was nice to be able to go out there and end it and get back on the winning side of things.”
Matusz threw his slider 29 times, 22 for strikes. He had a 52.6 percent swing-and-miss percentage with it, compared to 29 percent coming into the game.
“I feel real good with my slider right now,” he said. “I have a great feel. I’m just letting it rip, really. Just letting it go and attacking the zone with it. It’s got great bite, so I’ll hang with it.”
Matusz kept his pitch count down, which has been a challenge in the past.
“The changeup was a little inconsistent today, but actually toward the end of the game, it was working a lot better for me. But it’s always nice to keep the pitch count down and go deep in the game,” he said. “As a starter, that’s my ultimate goal, to go as deep as you can and hand it off to our bullpen, which is doing a great job right now. I just attacked the zone and got ahead. The Rays were swinging the bats today, and I was getting a lot of outs early in the count.
“When you’re attacking the zone and you have a good rhythm and flow, it’s nice to go out there and just pound and pound the strike zone with confidence. It’s always a good feeling.”
Pitching coach Rick Adair said Matusz did “a lot of things well.”
“Obviously, you see the guy for four innings, and you’re thinking about the possibility of a no-hitter, and then (Sean) Rodriguez hits that pitch for a double,” Adair said. “They really didn’t do anything offensively other than he had a couple careless walks. He kept his composure, his pitch count was down. They saw he was attacking the zone. He was down in the zone making quality pitches, so they had to start swinging.
“He’s gained a lot of confidence in his preparation, which I think is obviously carrying over to competition, and he’s in a good place mentally. You see a lot of... he’s very intense. But there’s some calmness to what he’s doing, and it’s good to see.”
Adair also said the breaking pitches are “big for him.”
“The biggest thing is he’s learned how to backdoor that slider to right-handers in strikeout situations, which was a real big pitch for him tonight,” Adair said. “Plus, he changes speeds with that too. One backdoor is a little slower, and the one down and it’s a little harder. He’s done a tremendous job with that.”
The game also included Endy Chavez’s first home run of the season. He began the day batting .121 with one RBI, and he struck out in his first at-bat.
“It was very nice, especially when I was trying to get a hit,” he said. “I just tried to pull a swing to the right side, and I made contact, and it just went out.
“Right now, I’m working with my hitting and trying to be more consistent hitting the ball hard. Today was a good start. I could drive the ball to right field and hit a homer to put us in a good spot.”