Brian Matusz came to the Major Leagues following in the footsteps of Cole Hamels and Johan Santana, pitchers who have proven that a feel for the changeup isn't reserved for veterans like Jamie Moyer. Matusz learned his change in college, and it helped him become the fourth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
And then, less than a year after signing, it was on display at the highest level. Matusz struck out Miguel Cabrera, one of the game's most dominant hitters, on a straight change early on in his debut on Tuesday night. Cabrera later earned revenge with a double on a first-pitch changeup, a pitch he may well have anticipated due to the previous at-bat.
Rick Kranitz, Baltimore's pitching coach, said Matusz threw a "phenomenal" changeup in the first at-bat against Cabrera, and he also said there's no reason why the pitch can't be a key for him going forward.
"His changeup has always been there for him," said Kranitz. "It's not like it's something foreign. And usually, when guys have that, they have it their whole life. Just because they're in the big leagues, it's not going to change. It's like [Hamels] in Philadelphia who has that changeup, and it's so good that he uses it all the time."
Matusz credited Eric Valenzuela, his pitching coach at the University of San Diego, for teaching him the changeup. And while it's just one of four pitches the southpaw uses, it has a special place in his arsenal.
"I've always had a good feel for it," said Matusz. "Some days it's not as consistent as I want it to be, but it's a pitch that I know I can throw for a strike when I need to. It's important to have that."
And while the changeup was working at peak efficiency on Tuesday, Matusz struggled at times with his slider. The left-hander was throwing the slider a little flat early in the game, but then he got two key strikeouts on it with runners in scoring position. If you ask Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, that kind of resiliency really isn't a surprise.
"I am impressed, but it doesn't surprise me," Trembley said. "I saw it in Spring Training with this kid. He is the real deal. He is a very special type guy. He is a top-of-the-rotation-type starter because he commands four pitches, he has tremendous mound presence [and] he works hard. And like he did in the fifth [inning], he was tiring, but he was at his best when he had to reach back and make probably the most quality pitches he had to make all night."
Matusz left after the fifth inning on Tuesday night, and his teammates provided some insurance runs to protect his first Major League win. And then, when it was done, Matusz got to celebrate with more than 30 friends and family members who made the trek to see his debut. True to form, the 22-year-old treated it all as a learning experience.
"It wasn't only my first outing, it was my first day being here, my first day really seeing what's going on and being there for a big league game," Matusz said on Wednesday. "It was just an unbelievable experience and something I'll remember forever. I feel like I learned a lot yesterday, a lot of positive things I can carry over and a lot of things I know I need to work on. It was a good day, it was a fun day and it was also a good day for me to learn a lot of things about myself."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.