Two days after being called into manager Buck Showalter’s office and told that the Orioles were sending him down to Triple-A Norfolk, after having his baseball world shattered again like a fastball through a pane of glass, Brian Matusz headed for the bullpen at Camden Yards and picked up the pieces.
Brady Anderson, the club’s special assistant, put on full catching gear - including a left-handed mitt designed by Rawlings - and caught Matusz’s side session Tuesday while the Orioles were in Seattle. Later, he watched video of Matusz’s previous starts, offered some advice and hoped for the best in the southpaw’s first start for the Tides.
He pretty much got it.
Matusz tossed a four-hit shutout in Charlotte Friday night after the Indians had roughed him up for five runs (four earned) and seven hits in four innings last Sunday, which led to his meeting with Showalter and the dreaded demotion.
“I felt really good,” Matusz said yesterday. “I threw to Caleb (Joseph) and we just got on the same page. I just attacked the zone and really established my fastball from the get-go. And all my off-speed pitches came off that.
“I made a slight adjustment with my changeup with my grip and I was able to use it really effectively all game, which made a big difference facing right-handed hitters. That’s been my struggle this year, facing righties and not having my changeup to keep those guys off balance.”
So how did Matusz come up with a different grip?
“Last Tuesday at Camden Yards, Brady suited up and caught my bullpen for me,” Matusz said. “We sat around and talked about grips and looked at a lot of video. The ball just hasn’t been coming out of my hand the right way. We noticed a slight mechanical adjustment that I needed to make and just went after it.
“It was a long bullpen session. Things just really clicked and that made a huge difference, just being able to find that feel. I knew it was just one minor adjustment I needed to make with my changeup. Just a grip thing. Brady really helped me get to where I needed to be. It was a beneficial day.”
Matusz, who’s 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 84 2/3 innings this season, knows that he’ll have to follow up Friday’s start with another positive one. And another one. Dominating Charlotte’s lineup isn’t enough for the Orioles to rush him back into their rotation.
“Regardless of where you’re at, you’ve got to be able to pitch well,” Matusz said. “I’m just going to keep at it. It’s nice to be able to work with (Norfolk pitching coach) Mike Griffin again and pick up some things. I’ve just got to keep it rolling.
“This game’s all about consistency. Regardless of where you’re at, whatever levels, hitters are all good. You’ve got to be able to make your pitches. And success here translates to the big leagues, as long as the ball comes out the right way and you mix up your pitches and keep hitters off balance.”
Anderson is doing his part to get Matusz back on his feet.
“Brady’s just dedicated to helping guys get better,” said Matusz, who worked out with Anderson over the winter. “Whether you’re a hitter or pitcher or whatever position you play, he just really cares. He’s been great. He knows so much about baseball and talking about strategy and facing guys, and he’s good with the mechanical things. He just knows the game. He’s someone to rely on for advice. And I really feel like Tuesday made a huge difference.
“It’s never fun to be demoted, but I knew there were just some minor tweaks that I needed to make. I knew that I wasn’t far off from getting it back. Just a month ago I was throwing the ball really well, with the string of wins that I had in a row.
“It’s not fun getting demoted, but I understand the business side of things. Being on the Orioles now, it’s a win-now type of mentality. They need to get guys out there who can get the job done, and I wasn’t getting it done. But I know I’m not far off. It’s just a matter of making an adjustment and getting back on track and throwing the ball well.”
Matusz is expected to start the Tides’ fourth game after the All-Star break. He’s part of a rotation that now includes Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta. All three pitchers were optioned within a week.
“We all have different things we need to work on,” Matusz said. “Tommy and Jake both have great stuff. All of us are grinding, trying to get things right, to where we can get back up there and help the big league team win.”
They could all end up in trade rumors as the non-waiver deadline approaches. Matusz and Arrieta, in particular, could appeal to a team that’s in sellers mode and is looking to move a veteran top-of-the-rotation starter. The Brewers come to mind, with Zack Greinke likely to be made available. Their pitching coach, Rick Kranitz, is certainly familiar with the Orioles’ young starters after holding the same job in Baltimore.
“Those rumors are always an ongoing thing with any player,” Matusz said. “There’s a price for every player. For me, that’s out of my control. There’s nothing for me to worry about. My main focus is to go out there and pitch and be successful on the mound. That’s my only focus.”