Former Orioles reliever Brian Matusz is back home in Arizona waiting out the waiver process, wondering where he’ll pitch next and reflecting on his years in Baltimore.
Emotions are all over the place and Matusz remains in one spot.
The Braves acquired Matusz and the 76th overall pick in the draft on Monday for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. They designated him for assignment before he could fully process a trade that removed him from the organization that brought him to the majors in 2009.
Matusz could be claimed off waivers, traded or released. Considering how the Braves absorbed the remainder of a contract that pays him $3.9 million this year, it’s doubtful that another team will claim him.
The process can play out for 10 days.
“I had no idea,” Matusz said today during a phone interview with MASNsports.com. “It was our off-day on Monday and we were in Houston. My girlfriend and I were at the mall just hanging out. Got a phone call from (executive vice president) Dan Duquette and Dan just said, ‘Brian, we traded your contract over to the Braves.’ And he was very thankful for the services that were provided in Baltimore. I was excited. I gave my dad a call and told my agent. I actually gave Brady (Anderson) a call.
“I was talking to Brady and saw that I had a call coming in from an Atlanta number and figured it was the GM for the Braves. And basically just said, ‘Hey Brian, we traded for your contract, but we decided to designate you for assignment,’ and that it was strictly a money situation and there could be a trade in the works.”
The initial reaction was one of excitement. A new opportunity. The chance at a fresh start, which was sorely needed with Matusz carrying a 12.00 ERA and 3.000 WHIP in seven appearances and only six innings.
“Obviously, a new team and I was excited,” he said. “But I also realized before the trade happened that a designation was a possibility, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. Just understanding that it’s part of the business, where I was at in terms of how I’ve been throwing the ball. I just wasn’t sure. It is what it is and just taking it a step at a time.”
The Orioles made Matusz the fourth-overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of San Diego. He was 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA in 32 starts in 2010, but his days in the rotation were numbered after going 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA the following season.
Next came the transition to reliever, primarily a lefty specialist, which allowed for his return to the majors. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen the past four seasons, posting ERAs of 3.53 in 65 games, 3.48 in 63 and 2.94 in 58 before this year.
Asked what went wrong, Matusz begins with time lost in spring training due to a back injury, but can’t provide a definitive explanation.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It was tough. Obviously, missing spring training with an injury and then rehabbing and working to get back. I thought Brady and I working together in the rehab process and having some good outings in Frederick, I thought it was a chance to get on a good run and really contribute in the bullpen and be part of the best bullpen in the league.
“The first couple outings back, just never really found it. A couple things didn’t go my way. I never really settled in, never kind of got on a roll and I wish things could have gone differently, but they just didn’t. Never really got a good feel, never got in that groove that I was hoping to. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but just didn’t work out and kind of forced the Orioles to make a decision. And this is where we’re at now.
“It’s tough. The Orioles are pretty much all I know. Drafted by the Orioles in 2008 and have pitched in parts of eight seasons with the team. It’s just been an honor to be part of the organization and kind of see where the team has gone since 2008 to where they are now. To be a part of that and part of some memorable experiences, like pitching in the 2012 and 2014 playoffs. Just being a part of the team. It’s such a great group of guys, a great group of people, a great organization, and obviously wonderful fans. It’s an honor to have been a part of it and it’s obviously sad to leave.”
“We went over to Zach’s hotel room, and Tillman and Zach and I hung out for a good hour,” Matusz said. “We just hung out, talked. Those are obviously two of my best friends. We’ve been playing together for eight years now. It was good to be able to hang out with those guys and kind of talk and reflect a little bit.
“And the rest of my teammates, I got text messages from a handful of guys. Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Caleb Joseph - I don’t want to leave anyone out - Matt Wieters, Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy and a handful of other guys. Just some really nice messages, wishing me all the luck in the world and we’re going to miss you and things like that. It shows what type of guys we have on the team, just a great group of guys, great group of friends and I’m really going to cherish the moments and the memories that we had together and I’m going to miss playing with those guys.”
Perhaps his next employer will give him the chance to start again. He never wanted to work out of the bullpen, but he played the sports version of the good soldier. He held left-handed hitters to a .211 average, but right-handers hit .300.
“It’s tough to say right now,” he said. “Just kind of reflecting right now, gathering my thoughts and see what happens in the waiver process. You never know what happens. But having the ability to start and be a reliever are two nice assets to have. Going to sit on it right now and wait on this waiver process and see what happens there and then go from there, but it’s nice to have options.
“It was a goal of mine, it would have been nice to finish out my career with the Orioles. It would have been great to finish it out, but obviously things happen for a reason and the way I look at it now is it’s a clean slate and a fresh start.”
Wherever it takes him.