I wasn’t at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday, but I heard that Orioles manager Buck Showalter received a huge ovation while walking to midfield as the Ravens’ honorary captain. He stood on their sideline for the anthem, though the FOX announcers didn’t seem to notice. Showalter was positioned in plain view beside coach John Harbaugh. You couldn’t miss him.
Ravens and Orioles. It’s always nice when birds collide.
One of the unfortunate developments in the American League Division Series occurred in Game 3 when Raul Ibanez hit the walk-off homer off left-hander Brian Matusz in the 12th inning. And not just because Ibanez decided the outcome.
The at-bat didn’t illustrate just how dominant Matusz had become in his new role as lefty specialist.
Matusz was 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts this season, and opponents batted .305/.370/.504 with 107 hits, 38 walks and 62 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings. He surrendered 14 home runs.
In 18 relief appearances, Matusz posted a 1.35 ERA and opponents batted .114/.170/.182 with five hits, three walks and 19 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He gave up one home run.
Matusz threw the last pitch for the Orioles in 2012, getting Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 5. CC Sabathia retired the Orioles in order in the top of the ninth to complete a 3-1 victory.
Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette agree that Matusz is still viewed as a potential starter next season. He was moved to the bullpen out of need with left-hander Troy Patton on the disabled list and J.C. Romero unable to fill the void. It also created the shortest path for Matusz’s return to the majors.
“We basically all year went with one left-hander down there, but when you have three left-handed starters in your rotation, which we do at times, the second left-hander is not that big a need because you’re always following left-handers with a right-hander,” Showalter said.
“Compared to the options we had and the trade market and some other things, we thought Brian could do as well, if not better, than some of the other things comings in. Brian will more than likely go in the spring as a starter and then he can always ... we think he can go back and do this, but he needs to get his innings. It was also a carrot for him to come back to the big leagues, so there was a lot of want-to there.
“Mike Griffin and Ron Johnson, our Triple-A pitching coach and manager, did a great job with him, and we set up some situations for him as the project went on to help us better evaluate whether he’d be able to do it, as far as getting up quickly, being able to throw multiple days within a five- or six-day span. Brian has taken to it. He likes the idea of coming to the park and having a chance to pitch every night.
“It’s like the chicken and egg. What comes first? If he wasn’t doing well, I don’t know if he’d be embracing it that much. But I think one of the biggest things is an opportunity to get back to the big leagues and contribute to this team.”
It makes sense to give Matusz a starter’s workload in spring training and then decide his role. He’ll be stretched out enough to join the rotation if there’s a spot for him. Otherwise, he can head back to the bullpen.
Asked on Saturday whether Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter are regarded as starters despite their bullpen assignments, Duquette replied, “We have depth to our pitching staff now. That’s really to be decided in spring training.
“I like to look at the team and say, ‘What role does the player fulfill on a championship team?’ And we found out Brian Matusz can pitch in prime-time against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. And we found out Tommy Hunter can do the same thing. So I think that when you look at your team and you have a lot of pitchers, I think a lot of those decisions can be made in spring training.
“I think all pitchers should start out as starters, frankly, so that they get the experience of pitching and pitching and pitching and developing their pitches.”
The Orioles figure to add at least one starter over the winter, and top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are lurking in the shadows. Tsuyoshi Wada should compete for a spot after undergoing ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton remain in the fold. Joe Saunders is a free agent.
It’s a crowded field for Matusz. It’s a decision the Orioles will have to make in Sarasota.
NOTE: WEEI in Boston is reporting that Orioles third base coach DeMarlo Hale will interview for the Red Sox’s managerial job later this week.
Hale is a former Red Sox third base and bench coach.
Showalter told reporters over the weekend that he hoped to retain his entire coaching staff for 2013.