Left-hander Brian Matusz, whose struggles this year have thrown his status as one of the Orioles' top young players into serious question, has been removed from the team's starting rotation.
"He's not in the immediate future starting plans," manager Buck Showalter said while the Orioles waited to see whether the rain would relent at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. "He might pitch some out of the bullpen."
The decision came as no surprise to anyone who has watched Matusz get pounded for five or more earned runs in each of his past six starts and run his ERA up almost to 10.00. He is 1-7 with a 9.84 ERA in 10 starts after missing the first two months of the season with an intercostals strain and spending more than six weeks in the minor leagues.
"I think he's got a pretty good idea of where he is — mentally, physically and emotionally," Showalter said. "Maybe we might get him back out there for some spots where he might pitch an inning or two and kind of see where he is with some of the things that I'm sure he'll be working on. He's got a lot of work to do between now and next April. I look forward to him coming back and competing for a place on our team next year."
Matusz accepted another dose of unhappy news without rancor. He lasted just 11/3 innings in the series opener against the Yankees on Monday and raised his ERA to 11.42 in his four starts since returning from the minor league assignment to face the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 16. He might know where he is, as Showalter said, but he doesn't know why this is happening.
"I'm not going out there and [being] consistent," Matusz said. "Placing the exact reason on one thing would be nice. It'd be nice to be able to do that and fix that problem. But for me, I'm not going to sit here and waste my time trying to figure out what the exact reason is. I'm just going to continue to work on things I need to do to be a better pitcher, and that's it."
Despite the obvious competitive implications of keeping Matusz in the rotation to work out his problems, Showalter said the decision was as much to protect Matusz from incurring further damage to his confidence.
"There are two sides to it," Showalter said. "I'm a father first. I don't like to see anybody get beat up on. I don't think that Brian is at a point right now where he can defend himself properly. It's not going to be a matter of him throwing 94 or 93 miles per hour. He can pitch just like he is stuffwise. It's just command issues and repeating his delivery and a lot of things he's aware of."
Matusz will continue to work with pitching coach Rick Adair to address those things. If he succeeds, it's still possible he would get another chance to start before the end of the season.
"We are going to take it day by day, of course," Matusz said. "We haven't ruled out anything. We're just going to keep pitching. I'm going to keep working on my bullpens with Rick, and when we feel like we're ready to possibly get me in a game, we'll do that."
In the meantime, Matusz vowed to keep a positive attitude, as difficult as that might seem to everybody else.
"When things are going tough, it seems like there is no positives, but there's a positive in every situation," he said. "No one wants to fail, but learning from failure could be a positive. You can turn anything into a positive. For me, I know I love this game. It's still fun coming in and competing and trying to get better, and I'm going to keep doing it."