The final week before the All-Star Game usually features a few demotions of starting pitchers with the idea that they can get a start in the minors during the break and then come back up afterwards. We’ll see if that’s the case with Brian Matusz here.
The Orioles demoted their left-hander Sunday after he gave up five runs — four earned — in four innings against the Indians. He fell to 5-10 on the year, with his ERA climbing to 5.42.
Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, was expected to open this season in the minors after posting a record-setting 10.69 ERA in 12 starts last year. However, he was very impressive in spring training in earning a rotation spot, and he did solid enough work for the Orioles for the first two months of the year, going 5-5 with a 4.41 ERA.
Unfortunately, Matusz’s loss today was his fifth in five starts. He has an 8.44 ERA during that span. He gave up homers to Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham in the loss today.
Matusz figures to get two starts in the minors before the Orioles reevaluate his status. If he pitches well, he might be back as the fifth starter right after the break. If not, then the Orioles may try Chris Tillman or Joel Pineiro as a replacement.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.