Brian Matusz received a bit of a scare in what could be on of his final starts with the Frederick Keys.
A sharp come-backer hit Matusz in the left thigh and bounced over to Brandon Waring at first base in the fourth inning. Waring was able to get to first to record the out and Matusz ended up with an assist.
Immediately after the out was recorded, Matusz was surrounded by a support staff that included the manager, pitching coach, trainer, strength and conditioning coach and his infield. Matusz threw a couple warmup pitches to show he was OK to continue and pitched into the seventh inning.
"My adrenaline was rolling pretty hard in that game," Matusz said. "I was hit pretty hard, I didn't see it at all. It hit me square in the muscles, square in the thigh. It was tightening up as the game was going on and it hurts."
Matusz said he had to scratch his post-game workout to put ice on his thigh to keep the swelling down, but he did manage to find a positive spin to what could have been a much more devastating blow.
"It'll bruise up tomorrow, I'm sure, but it's one of those things," Matusz said. "Lucky to get hit right in the thigh than a few inches to the right... I guess I lucked out a little bit on that."
One thing that is not luck, though, is his current dominance on the Carolina League. Matusz is fourth in WHIP (1.16) second in the league in ERA (2.16), first in innings pitched (66.2), and first in strikeouts (75), 17 ahead of second. He has walked just 21 batters and in nine of his 11 starts he has walked two or fewer batters. Matusz also has not given up more than four runs in a start, never more than three earned runs, and has not given up a run in 23 innings, dating back to May 20.
"Whatever it is, 23, 24 whatever innings without giving up a run, obviously I'm doing something right, and I'm getting a lot of help from the defense," Matusz said. "I still got to maintain that, keep doing well, and just go from there. I'd like to say more, but i"m going to keep my mouth shut."
As the temperature has started to rise, so has Matusz's level of play. He has thrown his curveball more often and pitching coach Kennie Steenstra said part of this could be because of the weather.
"The only nights he's had trouble with his curve ball have been the colder nights," Steenstra said. "Being an Arizona and California kid mostly, he's probably never pitched in the weather we saw early on in the season. We've talked a little about it and I think that has a little bit to do with it and he has a better feel for it now that the weather is warming up."
Matusz threw to Keys catcher Billy Killian for the first time this season and said Killian called for more curves than Matusz has thrown all year. Earlier in spring training, Matusz had his curveball taken away from him to work on his fastball location, but he has been able to use his full fastball-curve-slider-change arsenal during the season.
"He's a guy that every night is capable of showing you four plus pitches, which kind of eliminates a lot of the problems a lot of the other guys have, where if one pitch isn't working he's got a couple other ones he can go to," Steenstra explained. "At times that gets him into trouble because he has almost too many toys to play with."
Right now, it is easy to see why he has the ability to become a front-line starter in the not-too-distant future. Having four pitches and being able to throw them effectively should get him a mid-season promotion to Double-A Bowie as he may be on a fast-track to the majors.
"In terms of where I'm going to be, I can't control that," Matusz said. "Obviously, if I could, I'd like to take that next step, but I'm just going to go out, keep fighting hard and doing what I need to do and have fun with it. I'm having a good time, I like it. I like Frederick, nice town. I'm just enjoying it and hopefully things will change soon."