Orioles off-day news, notes and opinions: Matusz, Pie, defense
I’m assuming the prevailing topic on today’s off day will be Brian Matusz's issues. I’m not sure I have much more to add to the debate that wasn’t included in today’s newspaper, either in my game story or in Kevin Cowherd’s column. However, I will say that the people suggesting that the young lefty just had one bad outing are missing the point. I’ve written this before, but I didn’t think Matusz looked like himself from the early days of spring training. However, I chalked that up to his having trouble grasping some mechanical changes that pitching coach Mark Connor had suggested. The reports about his velocity and the crispness of his stuff weren’t good in his rehab outings. And regardless of what his numbers looked like in his first two starts of the season against two bad offensive ballclubs, the quality of his pitches was way down from what you are accustomed to seeing from Matusz. It could be any number of things. Matusz still could be uncomfortable with his mechanics. He may still be regaining arm strength. He still may be a little rusty, and he still could be a little timid letting the ball go. Or it could be an injury issue, though Matusz says that he is 100 percent healthy. Either way, the concern has to be that there’s been little to no improvement in his pitch quality from one outing to the next. You expect Matusz to have some struggles as he gets back into the swing of things, but you also have every expectation to see some progress, and the Orioles haven’t seen that.
There have been plenty of people, me included, who have been banging the drums for outfielder Felix Pie to get more playing time. I'd still like to see him out there because I think his speed and athleticism add dimensions the Orioles need more of, but I don’t think I’m being overly harsh when I say that Pie has really not done much in the opportunities he has had. I don’t say that as a reaction to his failing to come up with Ben Zobrist's ninth-inning triple Saturday, leading to Kevin Gregg's blown save. It was a tough play, and while Pie should have made it, his defense has been mostly solid. I’m also going to ignore his latest base-running blunder Sunday. But his offense has been a major disappointment. Pie is hitting .240 over 96 at-bats with no homers and five RBIs. He has just five extra-base hits and still hasn’t drawn a walk. He has just one steal in two attempts, and he’s sporting a .240 on-base percentage. With Derrek Lee returning Tuesday and Luke Scott moving back to left field, it’s really hard to foresee Pie getting much playing time going forward barring an injury to an outfielder. It will be interesting to see whether the Orioles trade Pie before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
The Orioles' defense was just atrocious the final two games of the Tampa Bay series. Center fielder Adam Jones failed to make a couple of plays, Pie didn’t make that one big play, first baseman Brandon Snyder struggled Saturday night and third baseman Mark Reynolds' defensive issues are becoming a real concern. His 14 errors give him the league lead. It’s not a stretch to say that bad defense cost the Orioles six or seven runs over those final two games. For a team that doesn’t get consistently good starting pitching and gets very few breakout games from the offense, defensive breakdowns will beat them just about every time.
This play didn’t result in a run, but I can’t imagine it endeared catcher Craig Tatum to Buck Showalter and the coaching staff either. With Casey Kotchman on third base in the third inning, Alfredo Simon threw a pitch that got away from Tatum and rolled toward the Orioles’ dugout. Tatum, obviously assuming that Kotchman was going to score easily -- and he should have -- kind of sauntered after the ball as it rolled toward the dugout. It wound up stopping against the dugout netting, and Kotchman never broke for home, which was lucky for Tatum, who initially had given up on the play.
One thing that I’ve always tried to avoid -- especially from my seat in the press box -- is lecturing fans on how to act and how to spend their money. However, I don’t think I’m crossing the line too much when I question why Orioles fans aren’t a little more aggressive in going after potential souvenirs, particularly ones hit by the home team that are close to the field of play. There were two instances in Saturday’s loss in which the Orioles could have used a little help from their fans. Sure, Rays left fielder Justin Ruggiano made a nice play to elevate over the left-field wall and take back a home run by J.J. Hardy in the seventh inning. But why did the fan seated in the front row -- dressed in Orioles gear, by the way -- pull away from the ball and allow Ruggiano a free run at it? Hardy and hitting coach Jim Presley certainly would have liked an answer to that question. That ball was over the wall and fair game for a fan. Also that night, Kotchman was able to reach about three rows into the seats to try and catch a foul ball without being impeded even a little. I’d be the last one to advocate a fan's interfering with a ball in play, but there’s no harm making a play on a ball coming down in the seats.