SARASOTA, Fla. - It's not a reach to consider today's start an extremely important one for Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz.
Zach Britton has been weeded out of the fifth starter competition. He noted how Jake Arrieta and "B-Matt" have both done "really well." Steve Johnson was cruising along Friday in Port Charlotte before walking the bases loaded with two outs in the third inning and running up his pitch count.
Jair Jurrjens tossed five scoreless innings on Friday, allowing only two hits, but he's fallen behind while trying to catch up to his 2011 first-half form.
Now here's Matusz again today, rescued from his original Twin Lakes Park assignment and pointed toward Bradenton for a 1:05 p.m. start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chris Tillman will pitch in the minor league game while Matusz tries to make another favorable impression. Matusz has allowed only one run in his last three games covering 11 innings, with two walks and 11 strikeouts.
Jason Hammel is expected to be named the opening day starter, and he's pitched twice in Grapefruit League games. Wei-Yin Chen made his third appearance yesterday and got lit up. Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have made two appearances.
It's a little strange to consider how few starts the first four projected members of the Orioles' rotation have made against major league teams. I see the logic in keeping them away from division rivals and other teams that the Orioles will play within the first few weeks of the season. No sense letting these opponents get too familiar with them. But the counter argument revolves around the notion that it's harder for these pitchers to prepare when they're facing Single-A batters who start swinging the bat while the donut is still on it.
I often warn fans not to read too much into a particular decision or move, but the fact that Arrieta has been pulled from Tuesday's start against the Minnesota Twins seems to suggest that he's going to be the fifth starter. The Orioles' first home series is against the Twins.
Arrieta will pitch at Twin Lakes Park, with Kevin Gausman making that Tuesday start. Johnson will start Wednesday night against the New York Yankees, a division rival.
Yes, the writing is on the wall, but nothing is official until manager Buck Showalter says so. He hasn't revealed his opening day starter and he hasn't passed along the names of the pitchers who will fill out his rotation.
Nothing is official, but most of it has become pretty obvious.
Matusz will try to do his part to again complicate the process.