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July 27, 2011

Matusz admits that he wasn't "mentally prepared" for the start of the season

Struggling left-hander Brian Matusz acknowledged today that he wasn’t “mentally prepared” for the start of the season and he lost confidence in himself after being asked to make mechanical changes that he wasn’t comfortable making.

“Obviously, coming in not prepared is pretty clear to everyone,” said Matusz in a phone interview a day after he allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks in Triple-A Norfolk’s loss to Toledo. “It wasn’t necessarily that I wasn’t physically prepared, but I wasn’t mentally prepared. I was working with two pitching coaches that I didn’t know and they wanted to change things I’ve done for my whole life. Rick Adair and Mark Connor had great intentions of helping us young guys get better. That was the goal, that was the plan. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared to make that happen. Right now, I’m trying to find myself, getting back to what has made me successful through my entire life.”

Matusz, the 24-year-old who was supposed to pitch near the top of the Orioles’ rotation for years to come, is 0-3 with a 4.83 ERA in six starts for the Tides, having allowed 35 hits and 14 walks in 31 2/3 innings. But of bigger concern is scouts who have watched Matusz since his demotion have indicated that his stuff isn’t any better than it was earlier this season when he was getting knocked around in the big leagues. Relying on a fastball that has been in the mid to high 80’s pretty much all season and spotty command, Matusz had an 8.77 ERA in six big league starts when he was demoted June 30.

Those numbers have led to questions about how hard Matusz worked this offseason – Oriole officials haven’t publicly questioned the pitcher but some in the organization are clearly disenchanted by the pitcher’s offseason preparation - and speculation that he is injured. Matusz missed two months with a strained left intercostal muscle, and he also had a sporadic spring after having a wart removed and gettg drilled in the left arm by a comebacker.

Matusz, however, said that he felt good coming into the spring, and his conditioning problems started when he suffered the lintercostal strain and was shut down from doing physical activities. After working out at Athletes Performance the past two offseasons, Matusz did say that he has decided to spend this coming offseason, training with former Oriole and noted fitness buff Brady Anderson.

“My first outing in spring training, I was 90 to 92 [miles an hour]. My velocity was there,” said Matusz, whose playing weight is down about 10 pounds from where he pitched at last season. He admitted that he needs to do a better job of getting stronger and maintaining his weight. “Ever since then, it hasn’t been there. It was all mental. It was feeling that I wasn’t good enough at the time and I had to change everything I had in order to supposedly get better. My confidence was taken away. It was beaten down. Then, I ended up being hurt and it’s just been a fight to get it back.

“What I need is to go out every five days and get better, and work on my delivery where it’s locked down to where I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I just have to continue to grind it out and get better every five days. That’s the ultimate goal. Getting shut down would serve no purpose. I’m not hurt, there’s nothing wrong with me.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to comment too much on what he thinks has caused Matusz’s disastrous season, but he did defend the mechanical changes that Adair and Connor asked him to make. That included quickening up his delivery so he was harder to steal off of, and getting him on a straighter path to home plate so he wasn’t throwing across his body as much.

“It’s all a learning experience and not many people come here at first and immediately produce,” Showalter said. “Brian has the ability to be a good pitcher here and everyone is trying to figure that out. Generally, if coaches see something that is going to be a challenge for somebody going forward, they try to fix it, and you listen to people who have a long track record of success in the big leagues.”

Despite scouts continued questioning of his stuff and the uneven numbers that he continues to put up, Matusz maintains that he’s on the right track.

“It’s the toughest year of my life so far,” he said. “From the get go in spring training, things didn’t seem to fall my way. Having the wart removed, getting the liner off my arm, and then the [intercostal] strain. Failure is not something that I’ve experienced in the past. It hasn’t happened for me.

“All the Orioles fans, teammates, coaches, they had high expectations for me and not being able to follow through on it has been tough. I don’t feel good about it, but what’s happened in the past is not something I can do anything about. I feel better every day I go out there. I know the numbers haven’t showed it in the box score, but I know that I’m on the right track, the right routine. It will come back. Things like that just don’t go away.”

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 7:13 PM | | Comments (13)
        

Comments

These reports frustrate me the first time I read them, but then they give me some hope that the problems are fixable. It's going to be easy to jump on the coaches' backs for this - and perhaps they didn't handle this the right way - but it was clear Matusz needed to work on holding runners. He probably never had to worry about baserunners when he was mowing people down in college.

What worries me about these quotes is that he is subtly passing the blame around here, when he needs to just focus on what will make him the successful pitcher we're all hoping for.

I'm not buying what Matusz is selling. He was not physically prepared for the year and we have yet to learn why. Not that I need to know, but the organization darn well better know the answer.

Being down 10 pounds from last year is absurd when you take into account his decline in on field innings pitched. The guy has no legs. A pitcher simply can not produce results without leg strength and he does not have any.

The one good thing about this is we are finding out how he deals with adversity. I am not impressed at all.

We know kranitz's staff made giant strides and fell back this year with buck's boys. I am encouraged by matusz's intention to go back to what he knows to what worked. Tjis nay be the first clear example of how showalter's detail devotion can backfire.

Good article. Perhaps Brady can make the connection with him the others haven't. It does seem strange that you would wait until someone is in the majors before you straighten out a mechanical flaw like that. Lets hope he sees the light.

He says it's obvious to everyone he was not prepared. It's not obvious to the fans who read this paper. Speculation has existed all season as to hisproblems. This O's organization and how it is covered in the media is one big question mark. The o's need a new owner and new people pulling the strings. CANT WAIT FOR SEASON END.

Hi Jeff, thanks for responding to my questions yesterday. The more I read about this situation, I'm becoming increasingly sympathetic to Matusz's position. Sure, he definitely has a responsibility to maintain his conditioning, but I don't see how that can't be made up quickly in-season, especially for a kid in his early 20's. To me, his overall performance seems more closely linked to changes in mechanics, which again, I simply cannot rationalize. I don't understand why the O's brass would draft a 4 yr college player with a proven performance record, watch him tear up minor league hitters, advance him to the major leagues, enjoy durable success in late 2010, and only then decide to manipulate his delivery. Unless his mechanics put him at risk for a career-ending injury, leave him alone. His primary purpose is to prevent baserunners. I'll suffer long leads by baserunners, especially given that we have one of the best defensive catchers in the mlb. I hope all of this can be undone...

There is nothing to gain by allowing Matusz to continue to pitch this season. Regardless of the speculation about injuries, something is clearly wrong with this kid, and it is more than mental. He should be shut down, and work with a strength and conditioning coach until next spring. He shouldn't even pick up a baseball until February 2012.

Also, the Orioles were dead wrong to screw with Matusz' mechanics. Showalter should have kept Kranitz, If it ain't broke don't fix it. Buck broke it, and I think Connor's hiring was largely responsible for the collapse of the young pitchers. He knew it, that's why he quit. He probably messed with all of them.

Matusz Meatusz & Tillman Tillmeat, just to name 2, are guys that need to shut down this year & get on total body (upper & lower body + long toss, etc) strength programs. There's no reason that w/ height + power + proper mechanics these guys are not throwing 90+. It seems that the O's gym rats, ie Roberts, Scott & to some extent Jones do so on their own & that power work is not an organization focus as it should be. Machado, to name 1, also needs to be on a power program to help maximize his development. Bundy (the recent pick) is already a gym rat throwing 90+ & won't break down a la Matusz & Tillman.

Jeff, Do you think Matusz's situation had any impact on Connor's suden departure, like maybe he felt he the organization was making him a scapegoat for some of the young pitchers' regressions?


...............................................................................................
Jeff Z's reply: I don't think so Chris because when Connor left, Britton and Arrieta were still pitching pretty well, and Matusz really hadn't deteroriated as much as he has. But I do think it's fair to say that the whole situation with Matusz and a couple of these other young guys was pretty challenging for Connor and is turning out the same way for Adair.

Jeff--
Does pitching instruction at any level of the Orioles system preach and promote leg strength as a major focus? I think back to the years of watching guys like Nolan Ryan and the guy was constantly on the stationary bike when he wasn't on the mound. Are our young guys so focused on what to throw and when to throw it that we're losing sight of the conditioning aspect of pitching? Any pitching guru from the time before specialized relievers and five-man rotations harkens back to constant conditioning when you're not on the mound. Are we missing something basic in drilling our young arms?

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Jeff Z's reply: I've heard the importance of it discussed by Oriole officials, but I'm not sure if it is a major focus.

Look at the successful starts recently and you see more veterans, fewer kids. On the other hand, why do Philly, San Fran and other teams have kids throwing great games and the Orioles kids can't cut it?

I suppose one can have faith in the future.

I'm certainly mentally prepared for the end of this season.

Seems pretty obvious now that Buck should have put the team first and his desired staff changes second after last year's excellent finish. As another writer said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


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