The Mariners could be without one of the AL’s hottest hitters for a week after Michael Morse suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right pinkie finger during Thursday’s game against the Rangers. Morse, who is batting .293 with six homers, was hit on the hand by a Tanner Scheppers pitch in the eighth inning, but…
It was a long, strange trip for Brian Matusz and the Orioles. In the spring of 2009, manager Dave Trembley was excited because, in his words, “The cavalry is coming.”
After a long spell of losing seasons and an even longer minor league career, the Orioles and Trembley hoped to reap the benefits of a group of talented minor league pitchers.
More than seven years later, only Chris Tillman remains from that group.
While Matusz and Tillman stayed with the team the longest, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken and David Hernandez all had their shots.
Strangely, Trembley probably got to see Matusz at his hottest.
After 19 minor league starts in 2009, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft was rushed to the Orioles and teased Trembley with a 5-2 record and 4.63 ERA.
By June of the following season, Trembley was gone and Matusz was back to teasing. When Buck Showalter arrived two months later, he teased the new manager, too.
Matusz went 7-1 under Showalter, and then 2011 happened.
A 1-9 record with a horrifying 10.69 ERA, and back to the minors.
After another chance in 2012, Matusz was sent to Norfolk by midseason and when Troy Patton was injured in a freak accident, he hurriedly re-invented himself as a situational left-hander, and nearly four years later, that’s where he stands—against his will.
It was ridiculously early to typecast Matusz as a situational lefty at age 25, but the Orioles were left with no choice.
Matusz hasn’t started a major league game since July 1, 2012, and that gnawed at him. He thought he would be traded in March 2015, but that never happened, and while he played the good soldier, he looked forward to free agency this fall so he could show another team that he was a legitimate major league starter.
Ironically, the team that traded for him, the Atlanta Braves, employ Trembley as their minor league guru, but he won’t be stopping there.
The Braves didn’t want Matusz to join their cadre of ex-Orioles: Nick Markakis, Bud Norris, Jim Johnson and Kelly Johnson. They really wanted the Orioles’ pick in the Competitive Balance round, the 76th overall, and they’d gladly eat the nearly $3 million that was remaining on Matusz’s contract.
The Orioles picked up two decent, but not show stopping prospects to add to a farm system badly in need of more arms.
Most important, they rid themselves of Matusz, who manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to use. Matusz had to start his season on the disabled list, and stayed longer on a rehab assignment than expected because he didn’t perform well in Bowie.
He gave up eight runs on 11 hits and walked seven in six innings, and the Orioles simply couldn’t go with him any longer.
Almost immediately after the trade, the Braves designated Matusz for assignment, and once he clears waivers, will search for a team that will allow him an opportunity to start.
For the Orioles, Matusz was a disappointment. Much more is expected from the fourth overall draft choice, but Showalter found ways to use him.
He was terrific against David Ortiz, who was 4-for-29 with 13 strikeouts, and Nick Swisher had just one hit in 22 at-bats. He was also great against Brett Gardner and Josh Hamilton (a combined 3-for-33).
But, in the end there weren’t enough hitters Matusz was successful against, and his time in Baltimore ends.
He leaves behind many friends through his work with children’s charities, and many who will be rooting for a fresh start as a starter.
Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks are now one win away from meeting in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs:
Lessons for Willy: Did you notice that former Capitals right wings Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer each scored goals Monday night by batting pucks out of the air?
NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick noted that both players must have played baseball growing up. What he didn’t point out was that both goals came from about a stick length away from the goal line.
Those goals are exactly the kind the Capitals were missing in their six-game loss to the Penguins in Round 2 and the kind of goals they want Tom Wilson scoring next season. Those goals don’t just happen; they are the result of hours and hours of repetition in the summer months.
By the way, Brouwer now has eight goals and 13 points in 19 playoff games for the Blues. That’s one more goal than he had in his first 78 career playoff games with the Blackhawks and Capitals. His post-season production is adding about a million a year onto his next free-agent contract.
Ward, who has two years left on his deal in San Jose, has four goals and nine points in 17 playoff games for the Sharks.
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Rooting interests: Last week, I asked Caps left wing Jason Chimera if he was rooting for Ward or Brouwer in the Western Conference Final. After some prodding he said Ward, because he’s never won the Stanley Cup.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Justin Williams at the beginning of this season. (Ironically, I’ve had the good fortune of reporting on Williams’ first NHL game and his 1,000th). When I told Williams I root for people, and not teams, and that I was happy to see him win the Cup three times, he quipped, “What about the (jerks)? Do you root for them?”
Fortunately, there aren’t many in this sport. Ward and Brouwer are both quality people, but I’m with Chimera. I’d like to see Ward hoist that big silver chalice.
Statistically speaking: Per Elias, when teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 192-53 (78.3 percent).
But here’s a more interesting stat from this spring: Road teams have won 41 of 82 games this postseason after winning only 38 contests during the entire 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs (38-51). So much for home-ice advantage.
Final word: I’ve always been a big proponent of finding a No. 1 goaltender in the playoffs and sticking with him, even after a lopsided loss.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan took calculated risks when they replaced Brian Elliott and Matt Murray with Jake Allen and Marc-Andre Fleury following Game 4 losses.
Facing elimination, the two coaches must weigh the options of sticking with Allen and Fleury or going back to Elliott and Murray. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I’ve always said that if you think you have two No. 1 goalies, you really don’t have any.
That’s why Martin Jones, who has started all 17 playoff games for the Sharks and has won 11 of them, has the best chance to win it all.
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Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin today, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.
Up today …
Running backs to-do list
Tandler: The Redskins’ depth chart seems to be missing a running back. The “lead dog” will be Matt Jones but there really isn’t a Plan B there. Maybe seventh-round pick Keith Marshall can contribute but if Jones is injured or ineffective for any significant amount of time—and he experienced stretches of both during his rookie 2015 season—it’s difficult to see Marshall carrying the load.
Perhaps the coaches will give Mack Brown a shot. He bounced on and off of the practice squad last year. The 24-year-old former Florida Gator might get a chance during OTAs to earn some significant snaps during training camp. He’s a long shot but part of OTAs is figuring out which players on the fringe of the roster might be able to make a legitimate push to make the team in July and August.
Still, it really feels like they are waiting for another running back to arrive. There has been plenty of talk about bringing back Pierre Thomas, who contributed during the last four games of last season. However, the 31-year-old veteran remains unsigned. Many have speculated that Arian Foster, released by the Texans, would be a good fit. But he is recovering from a torn Achilles and he can’t yet pass a physical so the speculation remains just that.
The process of identifying Jones’ backup is going to start in OTAs but I get a feeling it will continue into training camp.
El-Bashir: As the roster stands now, the Redskins’ plan for an improved rushing attack appears to revolve around Matt Jones staying healthy and making a huge leap production-wise in his second season.
To me, that seems like a big ask. Jones does boast impressive size for a runner and he possesses loads of talent. But he had a rough rookie season, one marked by injuries (he missed four games), fumbles (five on 169 touches) and inefficiency (league-worst 3.4 yards per carry among qualified rushers).
The good news is Jones should be fully recovered from the toe and hip ailments that sidelined him in '15. And, based on the second half of last season, he appears to be recovering from an acute case of fumble-itis.
But what’s the backup plan if Jones' anticipated improvement stalls? Oft-injured Chris Thompson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery? Speedy seventh round draft pick Keith Marshall? As Tandler said, it seems like there should be a 'TBD' listed on the running back depth chart entering OTAs.
Over the next month, though, Jones will get the chance to quell any concerns about his ability to shoulder the load. But it can also go the other way. If there's any doubt, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins turn to the free agent market for some veteran insurance.