Miscues early sink Matusz in third start

Miscues early sink Matusz in third start

BALTIMORE -- Brian Matusz suffered through a big league learning experience Saturday, when a momentary lapse of control turned out to be his undoing. Baltimore's rookie starter lost the strike zone for a four-batter span in the third inning, and the Angels made him pay with a five-run rally in a 5-1 win over the Orioles.

For Matusz, the setback represented the first brush of adversity in a professional career front-loaded with success. The left-hander had never lost consecutive games in his brief but eventful rise through Baltimore's farm system, and he said that he can use Saturday's experience to make him a better pitcher the next time out.

"It's not based on results," Matusz said. "Obviously, you're not happy with the loss, but it's a matter of the process. I can bring a lot of good positives from today's game. It's a matter of continuing to learn and make adjustments. I feel like I learned a lot today. I learned a lot from the Toronto outing [and] I learned a lot from today. There are some bad things that I did, but I can continue to make adjustments, move forward and get better each outing."

Matusz, who was making just his third big league start, cruised through the first two innings. And after striking out the first batter in the third, he seemed to have the game in control. Matusz walked two of the next three batters, though, and then he issued a free pass to Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded to push home a run.

The Halos (69-45) kept the ball rolling with a single to center field, scoring one run and allowing another to come home on an error by Adam Jones. The Angels scored two more runs on a groundout and a single by Howard Kendrick, but Matusz (1-2) was able to regain his bearings and pitch into the sixth inning after that.

"First thing you see is the fastball," said Angels starter John Lackey. "Putting up 94 [mph], that kind of stuff. ... From the left side, that's firm. He looked like he had good stuff. He's a young kid and I'm sure he'll be a force in this league."

Strangely enough, the first-round draftee was pitching in front of a heavily interested audience. The Angels drafted Matusz in the fourth round when he came out of high school only to see him choose college over pro ball. Now, after being selected fourth overall in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, his circuit is complete.

"His first two innings, you saw all his stuff," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "Even going on after we got the five runs, he pitched out of trouble. We were very impressed with him. Good life on his fastball, terrific changeup [and] he was dropping his breaking ball under some right-handed swings. And you can see why we liked him a couple of years ago when we drafted him, and, obviously, why Baltimore has him. He's got a bright future."

Both Matusz and Baltimore manager Dave Trembley had their own take on the key inning. When asked about the 22-year-old's brief loss of the strike zone, Trembley tersely said that was the umpire's opinion. Matusz said that the walk to Chone Figgins was the key point of the inning, while Trembley chose a walk to Bobby Abreu.

"A couple of pitches might've been strikes and it turned that inning around," said Trembley. "But Matusz didn't flinch. He didn't back off. He kept going at them, he got deep in the game. And he is going to be very good."

"Putting [Figgins] on base isn't going to make an inning go well," added Matusz. "From there, I felt like I was trying to nibble too much instead of going after guys. I felt like I had good command today for the most part, except my three walks came in that inning. I felt like the strike zone did get a little bit smaller, and anytime you walk three guys in an inning, it's not going to turn out well. I gave up a hit here, a hit there and I fell apart a little bit."

One night after scoring 16 runs, the Orioles (48-68) couldn't find much offense. Lackey started strong but allowed back-to-back extra-base hits in the third -- a triple to Jones and a double to Nick Markakis -- before ultimately holding the Orioles to one run. Lackey (8-5) pitched through the seventh and struck out six Orioles.

Baltimore made things interesting in the ninth inning by getting its first and second hitters on board against reliever Jason Bulger. The Angels went to closer Brian Fuentes, though, and he slammed the door on three fly balls. The Orioles have now scored three runs or less in 15 of their 28 games since the All-Star break.

"He's a good pitcher," said Jones of Lackey. "He relies on that slider and his fastball location. He benefited from it and threw a good game. We're not going to concede to him, but he threw a good game."

Matusz managed to strike out seven batters, but he also allowed 11 hits. The left-hander struck out Abreu, a two-time All-Star, on three different occasions and spurred the veteran to look out at the mound on all three trips back to the dugout. It was results like that -- and reactions -- that give Matusz confidence for his next start.

"It's a huge confidence booster knowing that I have the stuff to get guys out," said Matusz, who went 7-0 with a 1.55 ERA at Double-A Bowie before his promotion. "It's just a matter of throwing the right pitch at the right time and making adjustments. These hitters make adjustments just as fast as I can. ... That's what it's all about. "

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.