FORT MYERS, Fla. - Orioles manager Buck Showalter stretched out Brian Matusz to four innings tonight, and the left-hander responded by allowing only one baserunner and causing the Minnesota Twins to mostly swing at air.
Matusz struck out seven of the 13 batters that he faced. He walked one - Josh Willingham with two outs in the fourth - and didn’t allow a ball out of the infield.
The other five outs came on grounders or bouncers to an infielder, including three to second baseman Alexi Casilla.
Matusz threw 62 pitches, 43 for strikes. His total was inflated against his final batter, Justin Morneau, who lost a 10-pitch battle by tapping back to the mound.
Showalter has included Matusz in the competition for the fifth starter’s job, though the former first-round pick thrived as a lefty specialist last season after returning from Triple-A Norfolk.
Matusz did nothing tonight to make Showalter reconsider.
Matusz’s fastball was mostly 90-91 mph, though he topped out at 92 on the stadium radar gun. He hit 91 with regularity.
Before tonight, Matusz had gone two innings in each of his three appearances, including his only previous start against the New York Yankees. All three runs against him came in his March 2 relief appearance against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, when he surrendered back-to-back home runs.
Most recently, Matusz allowed two hits and struck out two on March 8 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Troy Patton will pitch the bottom of the fifth inning with the Orioles leading 2-0.
Trayvon Robinson has singled twice. He was thrown out trying to steal second base to end the top of the fifth.
Update: The Twins broke up the no-hitter and ruined the shutout in the fifth, singling twice off Patton and getting a run on Ryan Flaherty’s throwing error at shortstop. Flaherty tried to get the force at third after fielding a grounder in the hole.
Jason Pridie singled leading off the top of the seventh, stole second base, took third on a grounder and scored on Travis Ishikawa’s single.
Orioles 3, Twins 1.
Tommy Hunter struck out two of the three batters he faced in the bottom of the sixth.
As you would expect, Matusz was really pleased with his results tonight, and especially how he was able to pound the strike zone with Taylor Teagarden behind the plate.
“I kept the ball down today and attacked the zone and worked really well with Tea,” Matusz said. “It was really fun throwing to him back there. We haven’t had a chance to work together that much, so to have that opportunity was a great time. Our defense was solid. Alexi (Casilla) at second base was great, and Flaherty at short. Just all around, everything went well.
“My mindset was to attack the zone with authority and come out there and just play the game and pitch. Just build enough confidence, just keep building, building and stay strong all the way through.”
And perhaps win the fifth starter’s job.
“That’s really up to Buck to decide,” Matusz said. “For me, I’m going out there every outing to pitch my best and give the team a chance to win, and just keep building and keep getting better and put myself in a position to just get better and better as a starter, and really just focus on what I need to do to be a good pitcher to help this team win.
“It was a lot of fun. I mean, I was super-excited last week when Rick (Adair) told me I was going to start here today, and I just wanted to take advantage of it and go out and have fun and play the game and just take advantage of every opportunity.”
Matusz said he wasn’t tiring in his final inning.
“I got in a nice rhythm,” he said. “Kind of knew the game plan was to go four innings today, so it was in my mindset to attack, attack all four innings and get back in the dugout as a quickly as possible.”
Morneau made him wait at the end.
“No doubt,” Matusz said. “I mean, he’s one of the best hitters in the league for a reason. He just kept fighting. I felt like I was making good pitches and he just was putting good swings on it. That last pitch, I just said, ‘I’m going to bury a slider here.’ He’s such a good hitter, he still put good wood on it.
“Those tough hitters, you’ve just got to bear down and throw strikes.”
Matusz’s fastball and slider were sharp tonight and his change-up improved as the night progressed.
“The curveball is a little bit behind right now, but it’s something, talking to Rick Adair, that we work on a little bit more. Hopefully get all four pitches going,” he said.
“Today, I wanted to work on everything and mainly just attacking the zone and getting ahead and then seeing what pitches work.”
Update II: The Twins scored three runs off Todd Redmond in the bottom of the eighth after Hunter retired all six batters he faced with three strikeouts.
Twins 4, Orioles 3.
James Beresford hit a solo home run and Ray Olmedo added a two-run shot to give the Twins their first lead of the night.
Update III: The Orioles scored six runs in the ninth, five of which came against Josh Roenicke, son of former Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke.
Orioles 9, Twins 4.