Strong Start for Matusz

Brian Matusz made his second start of the spring this afternoon.  In four innings against the Phillies in Clearwater, FL, Matusz let up three hits, struck out four, and didn’t allow a run.  He needed only only 53 pitches to get through four innings and reportedly sat between 87 - 91 throughout the game, with some reports saying that he hit 94 a couple times in the later innings.  I just had the chance to catch up on Matusz’s outing on the outstanding version of on Apple TV.  My thoughts on the outing are below.

Matusz began the afternoon by letting up a single to Jimmy Rollins on a fastball that was up and caught too much of the plate.  It looked like Xavier Avery maybe had a play on the ball, but he pulled up and it dropped in for a hit.  It is obvious that the scouting report on Matusz is to look for a fastball over the plate and drive it, which is exactly what Rollins did here and what the Pirates did against Matusz this past Monday.  There are two ways to combat that: keep the fastball out of the middle of the plate or mix in effective off speed pitches so that the batter simply cannot sit on the fastball.  Matusz would employ both of those strategies more effectively as the game continued.

After Matt Wieters threw out Rollins, who was trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, Matusz went away on Polanco before jamming him inside for a groundout.  He got out of the first on a pop up off the bat of Shane Victorino.  Victorino was out in front of a first pitch breaking ball.

Matusz didn’t look quite as good in the second inning as he did in the first.  He quickly fell behind 2-0 on Jim Thome.  He then left a fastball over the heart of the plate that Thome crushed towards the gap in right center.  It looked like a sure fire double or homerun, but the wind held the ball up enough for Jai Miller to track it down.  Again, when Matusz gets hit hard it is usually the result of a fastball over the plate in a fastball count.  He once again fell behind to the next batter, Hunter Pence, before retiring him on a hard hit ground ball to Flaherty at short.  It is clear that Matusz was attempting to work inside and outside on both Thome and Pence, but was missing his spots and falling behind.  He started to put it together against the next batter, former Oriole Ty Wigginton.

Matusz started out by working Wiggy inside and quickly got ahead on two fouled-off fastballs.  The second one in particular was well located and caused Wigginton to beat the ball right into the ground.  Matusz stayed inside with a pair of breaking balls, the first of which was taken for a ball and the second was fouled off.  Matusz went back outside, missing on a pair of fastballs, before striking out Wiggy looking at a nice inside curveball.  Matusz did a really nice job here, staying out of the middle of the plate and working on both sides of the plate with all of his pitches.

Matusz looked very sharp in the 3rd inning.  He faced four batters, starting three with strikes and throwing two fastball and two breaking balls on first pitches in the inning.  He continued to do a very nice job throwing accurately to both corners.  Perhaps the best pitch of the entire outing was a low and away change up to strike out the #8 batter.  Even the one hit wasn’t on a bad pitch, as the #9 batter squibbed a ground ball by Betemit at 3rd.  A better 3rd baseman most likely would have gotten to the ball.

Matusz’s 4th and final inning was much like the 3rd - a good mix of pitches working both sides of the plate.  His tempo was quick and he worked fast throughout all four innings.  Matusz’s fastball looked the best it looked all game in the 4th, as he struck out both Thome and Pence swinging on inside fastballs during the inning.  The one blip, a one out double off the bat of Shane Victorino, was once again the result of a fastball left over the plate.

All in all, Matusz looked very good and more closely resembled the pitcher we saw at the end of the 2010 season rather than the historically bad pitcher we saw in 2011.  There is little doubt in my mind that is mechanics and strength are back in check.  He is following through much better.  His motion is much smoother and natural looking then it was when he struggled last season.  Until Matusz is able to better command his fastball and/or more effectively keep hitters off balance with his off speed pitches, he is going to let up his fair share of hard hits.  Still, that more or less puts him back to the spot he was at the end of the 2010 season, which would be a big bounce back after 2011.  You don’t want to get too excited after two Spring starts, but Matusz clearly is heading in the right direction and looks poised for a bounce back season.