It’s Matusz on the mound tonight

For the first time since he gave up six runs against the Detroit Tigers last Sept. 25, Brian Matusz will take a major league mound tonight, in a game that counts, to begin to try and finally erase, once and for all, the memory of his terrible 2011 season.

Matusz put in some hard work during the offseason after going 1-9 with an ERA of 10.69 in 12 big league starts last season. He gave up six runs or more in seven of his last eight starts then. His ERA in September was 19.13.

But after a spring training where he regained the zip on his fastball and proved that he was better conditioned than at this time last season, Matusz makes his season debut tonight against the New York Yankees.

It is not just another outing for him, not after he knows now what it felt like to have his performance fall so far last year that some thought he would have little chance to begin this season anywhere other than Triple-A.

“It’s definitely a special start,” he said. “It’s been a long road this offseason to be able to fight back and make the team, be back pitching the way I know I can pitch. I am excited to play the game I love and pitch the way I can. Just get out there again.

“Yeah, I’m excited for my opportunity. It’s an exciting time for all our starters.”

Matusz has been asked so much about last season during interviews. Maybe beginning tonight, those questions will begin to fade away.

“It’s a fresh season. Like I said, I don’t even remember last year. I’ve totally put it out of my mind. My focus is starting with a clean slate here and just to get off to a good start,” he said.

After a weekend of stunning starting pitching - where the O’s gave up just one earned run over 22 innings against Minnesota - Matusz is up next to try and keep that roll going. He’ll have to do it against the strong Yankees lineup.

“Absolutely. Hopefully, what the others did becomes the norm. If the starter goes seven plus innings each time and gives the team a chance to win, that’s what it’s all about. We’re getting to a point where we think we have the talent to do that. To hear Nick (Markakis) say that we’re bulldogs, that is pretty cool, it’s what we want to be,” Matusz said.

“All the teams are good, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Red Sox or Yankees. I’ve prepared really hard this spring, this offseason. I’m excited to face the Yankees right out of the gate.”

Matusz gave up 11 earned runs over 6 2/3 innings in two starts against the Yankees last year and is 2-4 with a 4.70 career ERA versus New York.

He was asked often about his fastball velocity during March and his normal velocity has returned. So too, he said, has the quality of his secondary pitches.

“Feel really good. Really worked on all of them, being able to keep them all down in the zone. Want to mix it up and I feel good going into this game,” he said.

Here are some notes from the Orioles 3-0 weekend:

* Orioles pitchers have a team ERA of 1.00 after three games. They held Minnesota batters to 15 hits and a batting average of .163 in the series. Minnesota’s slugging percentage for the weekend was just .228 and O’s starters pitched to an ERA of 0.41, allowing just one earned run over 22 innings.

* The Orioles had more homers in the series with five than Minnesota had extra-base hits with four (three doubles and a homer).

* Jim Johnson has now converted his last 10 save opportunities.

* Buck Showalter needs 12 wins to reach 1,000 for his career.

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