Brian Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, is headed to the bullpen at Triple-A Norfolk as the Orioles try to figure out whether he might be able to help them next month.
Expected to be one of the Orioles’ best starters in 2011, Matusz instead turned in the highest ERA ever for a pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched, finishing 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts. He appeared much improved this spring and won a rotation spot, but the success didn’t last; he lost his last five starts and was sent down at the beginning of July with a 5-10 record and a 5.42 ERA.
Matusz’s Triple-A outings have been a mixed bag. He pitched a shutout in his first start on July 6, but he had allowed 18 earned runs in 32 innings since.
It was righties that killed Matusz in the majors this year, so the Orioles think he could have success in a short role out of the pen. Lefties hit just .174 with two homers in 86 at-bats against him this season, whereas righties were at .347 with 12 homers in 265 at-bats.
That trend hasn’t carried over in the minors, though. Since arriving at Norfolk, Matusz has given up a .269 average to lefties and a .218 average to righties.
With the Orioles still in contention in the AL East, the move makes sense on at least a short-term basis to see if Matusz can provide some value in September. It shouldn’t be a permanent switch, though; regardless of how September goes, Matusz needs to be put back into the mix for the rotation next spring.