Fresh start: Brian Matusz makes his spring debut tonight

If Brian Matusz pitches well tonight at Ed Smith Stadium in his spring training debut maybe he will finally be at a point where the questions he has to answer deal more with the present and future than the past.

Few pitchers have ever had such a swing in their performance as this 25-year-old left-hander. He finished the 2010 season going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.57 over his last eight starts and then went 1-9 with an ERA of 10.69 last year.

American League batters hit .372 off Matusz last year and he had a WHIP of 2.11. A season earlier, the league hit just .255 off Matusz and his WHIP was 1.34, which was second best among Orioles starters in 2010.

When the 2011 season began, no one figured Matusz would make almost as many starts in the minors (11) as he did in the majors (12). No one figured his season-ending ERA would be the highest ever in the sport’s history for a pitcher making 10 or more starts.

There were a lot of theories for his struggles:

* Matusz’s conditioning was not where it needed to be.
* He lost velocity on his fastball.
* He did not have the usual command of his secondary pitches.
* He struggled to adjust to the change in pitching coaches in season from Mark Connor to Rick Adair.
* The coaches tinkered with his delivery.
* He got hurt early in the year and never fully came back from that.
* All the above led to a lack of effectiveness and a lack of confidence.

There is no doubt that many fans now lack confidence in Matusz. The good news for him is he gets a fresh start beginning tonight and he will now be judged on his performance this year, just like he was judged on it last year. If the performance is good he’ll make fans forget last season and he’ll stop getting asked about it.

There have probably been few players in history of the game more anxious to move forward and put a poor season in the rear-view mirror once and for all.

Matusz has proven to me that the talent is there. If he is healthy, there should be no reason he can’t perform like the pitcher that posted a career ERA of 4.37 in 40 big league starts coming into the 2011 season.

It may be hard to remember now, but Matusz entered last season with a career mark of 4-3 and ERA of 2.49 in nine starts against the Red Sox and Yankees. You don’t luck into those numbers.

So far, the reports coming out of camp about Matusz have been positive. I think one reason Buck Showalter gave Matusz tonight’s start, knowing the home fans will be watching on MASN, is to send a small message of support and encouragement to a pitcher that has battled his way back.

I take it as a good sign that Matusz was given this start tonight.

Matusz deserves some of the blame, maybe most of it, for his poor 2011 year. He will surely get the credit if he turns this all around and pitches like we’ve already seen him pitch for this team.

That would certainly make the postgame interviews more pleasant for him.

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