FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While the consensus is that Brian Matusz will make the Orioles' 25-man roster and pitch in the bullpen like he did superbly at the end of last season, the 26-year-old lefty has said repeatedly that he is approaching this spring as if he is going to once again pitch in the rotation.
Matusz let his pitches make his case in his first start of the spring Wednesday night against the Minnesota Twins,
Dominant from the beginning in the Orioles' 9-4 Grapefruit League victory, Matusz struck out six of the first seven batters he faced. He carried a perfect outing into the fourth before he walked Josh Willingham with two outs. He then retired former AL MVP Justin Morneau on a comebacker to complete an outstanding outing.
Matusz faced 13 batters and retired 12 them; seven on strikeouts and five on grounders.
"It was great results," Matusz said. "I kept the ball down today and attacked the zone and worked really well with [catcher Taylor Teagarden]. It was really fun throwing to him back there."
Using a fastball that was consistently 89 to 91 mph (with one hitting 92), an impressive slider and two other pitches, Matusz continually attacked the strike zone. He threw 62 pitches and 43 were for strikes. He didn't throw more than 14 pitches in an inning until the fourth, when he threw 24 – including 10 to Morneau before Matusz's outing-ending groundout.
"My mindset was to attack the zone with authority and come out there and just play the game and pitch," he said. "Just build enough confidence, just keep building, building and stay strong all the way through."
Matusz has now pitched four times this spring, and allowed runs in only one of those appearances. He has a 2.70 ERA (three runs in 10 innings) this spring.
But this one may have meant a little more since it was his first start in an Orioles uniform since July 1 last year.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I mean, I was super excited last week when [pitching coach] Rick [Adair] told me I was going to start here today … and I just wanted to take advantage of it and go out and have fun."
In his big league career, Matusz is 21-33 in a 5.51 ERA in 68 starts; he has a 1.35 ERA in 18 games as a reliever. But he once was considered the club's ace of the future. And he would love to be a starter again. That, he said, isn't his call; manager Buck Showalter will pick someone to fill that fifth spot among candidates such as Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton and Jair Jurrjens.
"That's really up for Buck to decide," Matusz said. "For me, I'm going out there every outing to pitch my best and give the team a chance to win. And just keep building and keep getting better and put myself in a position to just get better and better as a starter and really just focus on what I need to do to be a good pitcher to help this team win."
The Orioles staked Matusz to a 2-0 lead against Twins' starter Kevin Correia in the third. Outfielder Chris Dickerson had his first homer of the spring.