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.
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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.
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