Matusz on the mound: Lefty looks for rotation spot in spring training

We’ve seen pitchers go from the bullpen to the starting rotation. We’ve seen pitchers go from the rotation to the ‘pen. Can a pitcher go from starting to relief and back to the rotation?

Brian Matusz is going to try to pull that off and his quest begins this week on the sunny fields of Florida.

The Orioles are going to take a look at Matusz as a possible starter this spring and this might be his last chance to show the club he deserves a rotation shot.

It wasn’t that long ago that Matusz looked like a future star. He was the No. 4 pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He had a stunning 2009 season when he went 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA in 19 starts between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. He got an August call to Baltimore and was later named the Orioles’ minor league Pitcher of the Year.

Matusz was solid in 2010, beginning the year in the O’s rotation and went 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA. But he ended that season going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.57 in his last eight starts, and he looked very much like a top draft pick.

Does anyone remember that Matusz went a combined 4-3 with a 2.49 ERA in his first nine career starts against the Yankees and Red Sox?

But injuries and the loss of a few miles per hour on his fastball led to horrendous numbers the following season and no doubt the young pitcher’s confidence had to take a hit as well.

After becoming a dependable reliever out of the bullpen, Matusz now hopes to bring it full circle and recapture the solid four-pitch mix he showed when Baseball America rated him the sport’s 25th-best prospect after the 2009 season.

What challenges will he face in trying to show the club he can be a dependable starter?

“The biggest thing is getting right-handed hitters out,” Matusz said. “In the past, when succeeding as a starter, the key pitch was the changeup to keep right-handed hitters off-balance. Got to try to get that changeup back and even out those splits.”

Over his career, left-handed batters hit .208 with an OPS of .618 against Matusz and those numbers are .305 and .860 against right-handed batters.

As a reliever trying to get out mostly lefty batters, the changeup was a pitch Matusz seldom threw. Now he needs to rediscover the movement and command he once had with the pitch.

“It was a pitch that, when I got hurt, I just never really got the feel for it again,” he said. “Mostly facing left-handed hitters out of the bullpen, it was a pitch I never really threw. I didn’t have the chance to consistently throw it.

“But that is what this whole offseason I’ve been working on, is getting that going. Hopefully this spring, I can pick Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti’s brains and get it straightened out and go from there.”

Matusz said at FanFest he had already thrown a few bullpen sessions and the very early returns on his changeup seemed positive.

“Ultimately, the true test is the games,” he said.

I get the feeling some look at Troy Patton’s suspension, which takes a lefty out of the bullpen to start the season, and Zach Britton being out of options, and they tend to discount Matusz and his chance to re-enter the rotation. But Buck Showalter will have the final call on that.

Matusz has already made 68 starts in an O’s uniform. The odds may be against him heading into spring training, but he feels confident he will be adding to that total.

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