One of the most impressive things about the Orioles’ turnaround under Buck Showalteris Showalter’s ability to experiment in-season. And his knack on pulling the plug when it doesn’t work and sticking with it when it looks like it might.
How many times have we heard over the years that this guy might work out at that spot, but that’s more of a spring training thing?
The answer is plenty.
Yet Showalter isn’t afraid to try things and see if they stick – even if it means losing a game or two. Because the result could also win you a game or two. There have been some duds, like the revolving door of infielders in the outfield earlier this year.
But there have been some successes too – see Mark Reynolds’ defense at first when leaving him at DH would have been an easy thing to do. None have been more impressive than turning lefty Brian Matusz, a former first-round pick who took his lumps as a starter, into a situational lefty reliever.
Matusz has done so well as a reliever – a 1.42 ERA in 12 2/3 innings with eight base runners and 18 strikeouts – that he’s situational no more.
In fact, he’s now a big situation reliever. That couldn’t have been clearer in Boston’s eighth inning Saturday night with the Orioles clinging to a 4-3 lead.
The eighth has been Pedro Strop’s domain all season, but Strop has been struggling lately. So Matusz got the call to start the inning and face left-hander Jacoby Ellsbury, who grounded out. Switch-hitter Daniel Nava then came in to pinch-hit.
Showalter wanted Nava to bat right-handed – he’s almost 100 points worse against lefties – so Matusz stayed in. And he got another groundout. Then Darren O’Day entered to face Dustin Pedroia and a liner ended the inning.
“I feel confident that Brian can defend himself there. You want him to start the inning out because you don’t think they’re going to pinch-hit for Ellsbury,” Showalter said. “So you’re able to control the movement they have and pick your poison because they have all those people on the bench. Brian’s got some very big outs for us in key situations the last month and he’s carving a nice niche for him.”
Matusz understood the matchup situation with Nava. But the fact that his manager is sticking with him in those instances also wasn’t lost.
“I think in that situation with Nava coming up to the plate, Buck preferred having him bat from the right side compared to the left side. But, to me, regardless whether it is a lefty or righty I still have to throw strikes and make pitches,” Matusz said. “But it means a lot knowing Buck has trust in me knowing that I can get righties out as well. And I’ve just got to keep throwing strikes and keep succeeding and give us a chance to win.”
Showalter keeps pushing the right buttons, for the most part, this season. His handling of Matusz may be one of the more impressive developments of this year.