Matusz looks ready for '12 after final tuneup

Matusz looks ready for '12 after final tuneup

Matusz looks ready for '12 after final tuneup
NORFOLK, Va. -- Manny Machado had a two-run double and Brian Matusz fired four scoreless innings, but Baltimore fell to Triple-A Norfolk, 6-4, on Wednesday afternoon.

For some of the players, the venue -- Norfolk's Harbor Park -- was a reminder of the difference between being in the Majors and being in the Minors.

The walk from the visitor's clubhouse to that of the Norfolk Tides is along a dirt path under the third-base stands, through a copy room, an office, a lobby and into some doors and down a hallway. It takes perhaps three minutes.

If you've just been sent down from Baltimore, it seems like a lifetime.

Take it, as Zach Phillips did on Wednesday, and then get on a bus to Charlotte, N.C., and a Thursday night International League opener with the Norfolk Tides.

Avoid it, as Darren O'Day and Troy Patton did, and it's a plane to Baltimore and a spot on the foul line on Friday when the Orioles are introduced for the season opener at 3:05 p.m. ET against Minnesota.

Avoid it, as Matusz did, and it's a chance to pitch against the New York Yankees next Monday as Baltimore's No. 4 starter.

"We had a roster crunch, and they wanted to put their best team on the field," said a relieved O'Day, who struggled last season with the Texas Rangers, spending 85 days on the disabled list. He was claimed on waivers in the offseason and came to Sarasota, Fla., plainly looking for a job.

He found one, but only after going through another trial: a groin pull that sidelined him for two weeks in March.

"Maybe it was a blessing, because I got to work with [pitching coach] Rick Adair on a few things," O'Day said. "It's all coming together at the right time. My last outing, I know it was against a college team [Florida Southern on Tuesday], but I felt like I could have gotten anybody out. Everything came together. It's the best I've thrown in two years."

Sending out Phillips left Patton as the only left-handed Orioles reliever.

"I'm excited," said Patton, once a struggling starter who seems to have found himself in the bullpen. "It will be interesting to see how it works, whether they will use me long or short -- or simply lefties or whatever they do. It's just exciting to be one of the 25."

Dan Duquette, Orioles vice president for baseball operations, spoke of seeking "pitchers who can get out right-handers and left-handers, who aren't particularly specialists. I want pitchers to get out people from both sides of the plate."

Of having only one left-hander in the bullpen, Duquette said, "I don't think that's going to be an issue."

Matusz pitched four innings on Wednesday, shutting out Norfolk on three hits and striking out five. He needed only 57 pitches before leaving with a 2-0 lead, which the Orioles gained on Machado's pinch-hit, two-run double in the top of the fifth.

Jason Berken came on in relief and surrendered three runs. The Tides eventually won 6-4.

"It was getting pretty dangerous out there," said manager Buck Showalter, of a game in which the middle innings were played in a thunderstorm. "The mound was pretty slick. The grounds crew did all they could do to make it workable."

Matusz maintained a spring string in which he has not given up a home run in 28 2/3 innings, spread over seven games. This, after he surrendered at least one home run and a walk in each of his final 11 starts in 2011. He lost his last nine decisions in 2011, giving him the longest active losing streak in the Major Leagues.

"I'm pitching down in the zone, and that's the name of the game: pitching at the knees and getting ground balls," Matusz said. "That's something I've been working with with Rick Adair [on]: getting the ball down at the knees."

He expressed confidence, even before being told late Wednesday what his role would be with the Orioles.

"Absolutely," Matusz said. "I worked really hard this spring to get back to my form. I pounded the zone really well all spring. I feel like I'm on the right track. ... You know, I've forgotten about last season. What's done is done. It's over with."

There was no doubt about Matusz, according to Showalter.

"We felt like Brian was going to get some return for some of the things he was exposed to last year for the first time in his career," said Showalter. "We felt strongly about his fighting back, and that's exactly what happened.

"Now, there's a challenge ahead of him."

Sending Phillips down was difficult, according to the Orioles skipper.

"That's tough," Showalter said. "He pitched well enough to make our club. He just didn't fit right now. He'll impact our club this year."

Jim Hodges is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.