By JAY LeBLANC
Baltimore Orioles fans waited months for the much-hyped arrival of catcher Matt Wieters, and the back end of the rotation’s struggles made the wait for right-hander Chris Tillman‘s debut seem a lot longer than it actually was. Brian Matusz‘s impending promotion, on the other hand, is an unexpected and much appreciated surprise. O’s fans were well aware of the highly touted southpaw’s dominance of Double-A hitters, but Andy MacPhail & Co. had stated all along that he would finish up his first full professional season in the minors and then be sent home. Instead, all indications are that Matusz will start in place of the injured Brad Bergesen on Tuesday night in Detroit.
Matusz will be making his Major League debut in just his 20th pro appearance, but he certainly appears ready for prime time. The fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft signed too late to appear in any minor league games last summer but made a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, ranking as its No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America. He was assigned to advanced Class A Frederick to begin the year but earned a promotion to Double-A Bowie after posting a 2.16 ERA in 11 starts. Eastern League hitters proved no match for the 22-year-old, who won all seven of his starts for the Baysox before he was pulled after one inning Saturday in anticipation of his big league debut. In total, Matusz went 11-2 with a 1.55 ERA in 19 minor league starts this year, fanning 121 and walking just 32 in 113 innings.
With four major league-caliber pitches - five if you count both variations of his low-90s fastball - and impeccable command, Matusz seems like as good a bet for immediate success as any rookie pitcher in recent memory. I had a chance to speak with the potential future ace last September while he was in Aberdeen working out with the short-season Class A IronBirds just a few weeks after signing, and he seemed optimistic about his future in orange and black and eager to get started on what ultimately turned out to be a quick trip to the big leagues.
Q: You were drafted out of high school (by the Angels, in the fourth round of the 2005 draft) but elected to go to college instead of sign. Was it a difficult decision to go to college instead of going pro?
A: Oh, absolutely. When that type of money is flashed in front of an 18-year-old’s face, I mean, it’s real tough to turn down. But deep down inside I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to have at least three years to have that experience, and it ended up being a great decision.
Q: Negotiations went right up to the deadline. Were you confident all along that something would get done, or were you concerned that you might not be able to agree to terms?
A: No, I knew from the beginning that we were going to get it done. I wasn’t asking for anything that was record-breaking, or anything that wasn’t a right fit. I knew that we were going to come to terms, but it was going to come down to the end. I knew that, my agent knew that, and [Orioles GM Andy] McPhail and [scouting director] Joe Jordan knew that it was going to come down to the end, but we were making good progress. We worked well together, and I’m glad that we were able to make a deal.
Q: What was the Orioles’ purpose for assigning you to Aberdeen without the intention of having you pitch?
A: It’s just a great experience for me to get out here, experience minor league ball, meet a lot of the guys, be able to play in such a great ballpark and just be around the game. And to start my throwing, start working out a little bit so I can get ready for instructs and hopefully Arizona Fall League.
Q: So you don’t know for sure whether you’ll be playing in the Arizona Fall League yet?
A: Not yet. It hasn’t been determined. I’m hoping to play in the Arizona Fall League, but if not, Hawaii [Winter Baseball] is an option too.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a two-seam and four-seam fastball; I throw a changeup, a curveball and a slider. I use the slider as more of an out-pitch; the curveball I can use as an out-pitch as well as a set-up pitch - I feel like I’ve got very good command of it. My changeup I like to use at any time in the count; just depending on the hitter, I like to throw it to both lefties and righties. And obviously the fastball is the same thing - it can be a set-up pitch, it could be an out-pitch … whatever is working that day. A good day for me is when I have everything going my way and I have a lot of options to work with.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: Well, I had a lot of success in college with strikeouts. I led the country my junior year, and I was second my sophomore year in strikeouts. I had a lot of strikeouts throughout my career, and that was one thing we pitched for and really tried to do in college was pitch for the strikeout. Pitching to aluminum bats, we wanted to prevent other guys from hitting it. But it might be a little bit different out here. I’ll work with my coaches, and hopefully I’ll be able to pitch in to guys a lot more and get jam-shots. We’ll just see how it goes - I’m just trying to get in shape and get ready to get out there.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: It’s tough to say. There’s guys in the major leagues that I look up to a lot - a guy like Cole Hamels, who has a similar body to me, throws a lot of similar pitches and works off his changeup a lot, throws in the low 90s. It’s a type of guy like that that I like to watch and emulate, and see if I could one day be in his shoes.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?
A: Well … I’m ready to start my career in the minor leagues and be ready to develop, tone up every aspect of my game and get out there when I’m ready. There’s no need to rush me, but whenever it’s a good time, and that’s for the organization to decide.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original Brian Matusz Prospect Q&A