Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson called Brian Matusz into his office on Monday and made official the left-hander’s move to the bullpen. And so began the next phase of Matusz’s professional life.
Whether it’s a passing phase has yet to be determined.
The decision was born after numerous conversations involving Johnson, Orioles manager Buck Showalter, executive vice president Dan Duquette, director of pitching development Rick Peterson and Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin.
“Buck and Dan felt it would be a good fit for me,” Matusz said yesterday in a phone conversation. “The team is in the playoff hunt and they’re just using their resources to find a way to put the best team out there. I’m excited about the opportunity and about trying something new. I’ll find a good routine that works best for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Matusz made his first relief appearance last night and earned his first save after allowing two runs and five hits in three innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 59 pitches, 38 for strikes.
“I’ll take it day by day. Find the best routine and get started,” he said.
“It wasn’t something I thought about, but I knew it was a possibility. When Ron called me into his office, he asked me what my thoughts were and I told him I was excited to do whatever the club needs. My ultimate goal is to get back to the big leagues and help the team any way possible.”
Matusz has been a career starter, so adjustments must be made immediately.
“It’s a different routine and something I’ll talk to some relievers about here at Norfolk and kind of pick their brains a little bit, see what works for them and find a routine that works best for me,” he said. “But what it comes down to is, it’s still pitching, making pitches, getting guys out. It’s just a different role. That’s it.
“It’s exciting for me. I’ve never experienced it before in my career and it should be a fun challenge.”
The Orioles think Matusz is suited for this role because of his splits - he’s been much more effective against left-handers - and his ability to get ready in a hurry. Duquette also mentioned Matusz’s skill at holding runners, something that presented a challenge before this year.
“I do warm up pretty fast,” Matusz said. “It doesn’t take much for me to get going. That’s an advantage for me.
“They can use me as a long man or as a lefty-lefty matchup-type guy. It really doesn’t matter. I’m just excited for the opportunity and I have a goal in mind and I’ll do whatever I can to reach that goal and make it back to the bigs.”
Matusz said he doesn’t know whether this assignment marks a permanent change in his career. Duquette and Showalter suggested yesterday that Matusz still is viewed as a starter in the future.
“It may be after two or three times (in relief), something exposes itself that means it’s probably not a good idea,” Showalter said. “Brian’s all in. It’s something that, obviously we feel down the road that he’s going to be a quality starter in the big leagues. This is something that’s being done because of the situation we’re in and we want to take a look at it. That doesn’t mean he can’t start for us again this year.
“Obviously, down the road we see him as a starter, but this is what’s best for the team and the organization to take a look at and see if he’s an option.”
Said Matusz: “I’m not quite sure, but right now my focus is to just work in the bullpen and do the best I can at it. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. Whether I’m a reliever or a starter in the future isn’t an issue right now. I’m focused on settling in in the bullpen.”
I didn’t watch Tuesday night’s telecast, of course, because I was sitting in the press box, but numerous fans asked me about Hall of Famer Jim Palmer’s remark that Matusz might not be as coachable as some people in the organization desire. I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t hear it and Palmer didn’t recall his exact words or feel like the subject was worth revisiting.
“I’m not quite sure what people’s perception is and it’s a non-issue for me,” Matusz said. “I’ve worked with Rick Adair and Rick Peterson and Mike Griffin down here. I’m taking in as much as I can.
“Jim Palmer was nice enough in the offseason to come out to Irvine and work with Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter and myself. It was nice being able to listen to a Hall of Famer and a great pitcher like Jim and be able to learn things from him.
“I’ve always picked people’s brains to find different things that work for me. I’ve learned a lot from Jim and Adair and Peterson and Griff. They all have things to offer. I feel fortunate to have learned from those guys and I’m excited to learn more from them in the future.”