With Brian Matusz set to start Tuesday in Detroit, confirmed by MASN's Roch Kubatko Monday evening, the immediate question that some fans, and some within the organization, is:
Is Brian Matusz ready for the big leagues?
In June of 2008 he was made the fourth overall selection of the First-Year Player Draft and on August 4, 2008, Matusz and his camp were still in contract negotiations with the Orioles. He ended up in Aberdeen towards the end of the short season but never pitched there. He would make his debut as a member of the Orioles organization in the Arizona fall league and got his first taste of regular season baseball with the Frederick Keys, the high-A affiliate.
Brian would dominate the Carolina League, striking out 75 batters in just 66.2 innings to lead the league at the time of his departure. He was named to the Carolina League All-Star team but was promoted shortly before the game to double-A Bowie. Not too long after that another honor came in. He had been selected to play in the All-Star Futures game in St. Louis on All-Star Sunday. Upon his return to Bowie, he had his worst start of his short career, giving up six earned runs in five innings, but it turned out to be just a blemish on an otherwise fine season.
Over his stint in Bowie, Matusz got better. He walked just 11 batters in 46.1 innings and gave up just 31 hits, good for a 0.90 WHIP. He would also strike out 46 batters, including 10 in his Bowie debut on June 17.
So what is missing from his resume? The glaring hole is triple-A. The batters at each advancing level are a little more patient and harder to get out. However, the Orioles had to be confident in him from the day he was signed. Something that seems to have fallen by the wayside since the rumor mill started turning was that Matusz signed a Major League contract.
At this point, it should be no surprise that Brian was knocking at the door this year and as much as a team does not want to rush a prospect, this process started last August. Whether he is in Baltimore for the rest of the year, goes back to Bowie or Norfolk or gets shut down for his innings count, etc., the point is, he is a Major League pitcher now and was viewed as one when the Orioles gave him his big league contract.
But again, is he ready?
After looking at the numbers, they sure do show he is ready, but many pitchers have put up great numbers in Frederick and Bowie and were not ready for Baltimore. It is his secondary pitches that separate him from the likes of Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, David Hernandez and Chris Tillman. Those pitchers all had a lot of work to do on their changeups, curves and sliders.
Matusz is already viewed as having four big league average or better pitches. He will throw his fastball from 88-92 m.p.h. and his changeup usually sits at 80-82. His changeup could be the best in the organization and he can throw any pitch in any count. Hitters sitting on a fastball in a "fastball count" are not guaranteed to get one and the ability to pitch backwards has gotten him out jams.
It was no secret in spring training when the Orioles temporarily took away Matusz's curve to focus on fastball location, but now that it is back, he said he has used it sparingly, but likes to keep batters off balance. He will use it as an out pitch or to get a quick strike when batters are looking for something else. The bottom line is, he throws all four of his pitches for strikes, consistently.
It is also his ability to work both sides of the plate to both right- and left-handed batters. Righties in the Carolina League hit .256 off of him, but he improved that mark to .224 in Bowie. Lefties have had no chance in the Eastern League against him, only two have gotten hits.
Then, finally, there is the mental approach to the game. Matusz knows what he wants to do, and usually does it. He game plans with catchers in the dugout before his starts and makes adjustments with them during the game.
So, with four full months in professional baseball, Brian Matusz will make his Major League debut against a playoff contending team, on the road, in Detroit.
While the Blackberry's were buzzing within the organization to try to find out if Matusz is ready this past weekend, here is Brian's take after his last home start in Bowie on July 27:
"This is my first year of professional baseball. I'm a ballplayer, not in upper management making the moves on when I'm ready to go where, but, obviously, I'm always ready for the challenge."