Call it snake-bitten. Call it bad luck. The fact is Brian Matusz can simply not catch a break these days. Matusz's tumultuous 2011 season was largely his own doing or at the very least, he had control over several of the factors that lead to his struggles. He came to camp out of shape, his mechanics were out of whack, his fastball velocity was down, and he was never able to make the adjustments necessary to regain his prior form. From all accounts, he met those obstacles head-on during the off-season. He came into camp in fantastic shape, his mechanics have largely been sound, his fastball is back to the 90-92 range, and he has clearly made some adjustments. Still, the results in 2012 have largely been the same as 2011 - poor.
Actually, that is a bit unfair. The results have been better. Matusz is going deeper into games, even if 5 inning games aren't exactly deep. He is getting more outs, more strikeouts, and looking like a much better pitcher. Yet, through three starts, Matusz is still winless and can't see to get anything going.
Last night against the Angels, Matusz's stuff looked better than it has looked in over a year. His change up was great. He was locating and getting ahead with his fastball. Brian's one, big problem was an over-reliance on fastballs. He had good off speed pitches last night but for some reason, he kept throwing fastballs. He got ahead of hitters 0-2, 1-2, and then instead of finishing with a change up, he continued to throw fastballs and usually ended up paying for it. In the 6th inning, Matusz ran out of gas and let up two walks that would come back to bite him.
Otherwise, the 6 runs allowed by Matusz were largely created by circumstances out of his control. He was hurt by an absolutely atrocious strike zone from home plate umpire Dale Scott. I am not talking about being squeezed on pitches on the corner (although there were some of those); I am talking about obvious strikes right over the center of the plate being called balls in key situations. The defense behind Matusz did the left-hander no favors, as well. Officially, the team made three errors behind Matusz which lead to two unearned runs. The O's defense easily could have been charged with 5 errors and 3 unearned runs. Matusz got himself into trouble in the 6th, but for the second outing in a row he saw a relief pitcher allow all of the inherited runners to score after he exited the game. Lastly, it could easily be argued that the fastball happy pitch calling isn't entirely on Matusz's shoulders. Brian rarely shook off Matt Wieters during last night's game, which would indicate that the fastball-heavy pitch selection was in-part Wieters' idea. In any event, an over reliance on the fastball (his worst pitch, even though it was pretty good last night) has been an issue for Matusz for a while now and the coaching staff should advise him to change his game plan accordingly.
Matusz's stuff is back or nearly back to form. I am sure of that. He just has not gotten any help or any luck thus far this season. Every pitcher needs some help to win games. Someone like Matusz, in trying to come back from a historically bad season, needs even more help. Instead, not only he is getting little help or luck, several factors completely outside of his control seem to be actively working against him.
For the first time during this tough season+ period for Matusz, he showed visible frustration on the mound. He grimmeced at the defensive miscues. He took walks around the mound after successful infield bunts. He took deep breaths and starred into the sky after bad calls by Umpire Scott. All of those actions gave off more than a subtle "why me?" vide. It was hard not to feel for him last night.
I was rooting for Brian Matusz before, but that feeling has just intensified. We all know that hopeless feeling of trying as hard as we can at something and not getting any results to show from it. It's a terrible, lonely, and frustrating feeling. The only thing to do is to continue grinding, to continue working through it, and eventually things will turn around. I am convinced Brian Matusz's stuff as it currently stands is good enough to allow him to be a successful major league pitcher. If he can stay focused and stay positive, the hard work will pay off - even if that is hard to see right now.