Orioles news, notes and opinions: Reason for Matusz's struggles, Lee's value, young infielders, etc.
I totally understand why some people are calling for the Orioles to shut down struggling left-hander Brian Matusz, and let him start fresh next spring. I just don’t agree with it. Look, I have no way of knowing if Matusz, who is pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, is 100 percent healthy. But you have to think that if he wasn’t, he would have admitted it by now, or if there was any doubt, either the team or his agent would encourage the 24-year-old to shut it down. They haven’t and slowly but surely, clues are starting to emerge as to what has contributed to this disastrous year for Matusz, who allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks over five innings to Toledo. That leaves him 0-3 with a 4.83 ERA in six appearances for Norfolk. I haven’t spoken to Matusz in a couple of weeks, but I’ve heard or read several interviews with him since. And more and more, he’s starting to acknowledge that he wasn’t as prepared as he needed to be coming into spring training. There have been whispers for months that Matusz didn’t do enough in the offseason, and I’ve said many times that he didn’t look right to me from the first day of spring training. Perhaps, some of his recent comments are telling. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he was unprepared for spring training, had his preparation cut short following the wart removal and the getting drilled by the comebacker, and then sustained the intercostal injury. Throw in working on the mechanical changes that new pitching coach Mark Connor suggested, and a total loss of confidence and it’s suddenly not hard to see why one of baseball’s better young pitchers last year is struggling to get anybody out at Triple-A right now.
Jeremy Guthrie isn’t scheduled to pitch again until this weekend in New York, but several potential suitors for Koji Uehara had scouts at the Rogers Centre last night. Among the teams represented were the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers. There were a handful of other scouts there as well, but I wasn’t able to catch what teams they represent. I’m sure every stadium in baseball last night was packed with scouts and who is there and who isn’t really doesn’t mean too much, but I figured it was worth passing along with so much attention being paid to potential trades over the final week before the Sunday deadline.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve always admired Derrek Lee as a player and person, but he’s a guy who I wouldn’t mind having on my team during the final two months of the National League pennant race. I can’t see why he wouldn’t fit on teams like Arizona or Pittsburgh, who aren’t exactly getting a ton of production at first base. Lee is batting only .246 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs so it’s not like a team would be getting a middle-of-the-order hitter. However, I would think the combination of his leadership, defense, and the fact that he knows National League pitchers a lot better than the American League ones, would probably be worth acquiring for a low-level prospect or two. You make ask what is the point from the Orioles’ end, and my answer would be that it would allow them to save a little money (from what remains on Lee’s contract) and possibly put it toward the Dylan Bundy fund.
Make no mistake, several young players that really needed to have big years on the farm – Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Matt Hobgood and Billy Rowell to name a few – have not, leading to even more criticism for the Orioles’ Player Development Department. They have earned their share, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge that some good things have happened on the farm this year, none bigger than the development of two of the better infield prospects in the game. Ever since I started covering this organization in 2005, all I heard about was that they had no up-and-coming infielders. That has changed. After a slow start at Single A Frederick, shortstop Manny Machado, 19, has really come on and raised his batting average to .278 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 25 games. He has two hits or more in three of his past four games, and three doubles in his past two games. Then, there’s third baseman Jonathan Schoop, the 19-year-old who went 4-for-4 with his first Carolina League homer last night to raise his average to .238 since his promotion to High-A. Throw in LJ Hoes, a former second baseman who is playing mostly outfield for Double-A Bowie and batting .310 in 55 games, and that's a pretty nice group of young infielders.
Here’s a stat that will show how little margin of error that the Orioles have and how few lopsided victories they have enjoyed: Last night’s 12-4 victory was the first since a 5-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on May 24 in which manager Buck Showalter didn’t need to call on Jim Johnson, Uehara or Kevin Gregg to help preserve the lead. The Orioles have won 19 games since then and one or more of those three guys had pitched in each of the victories until last night. There’s certainly something to be said for an extra day off for your three best relievers.
Because we can’t go a day without an incremental Cesar Izturis update, the veteran infielder went 1-for-3 with an error at second base for Double-A Bowie last night. He reported no soreness in either his knee, which has been giving him some problems, or his surgically-repaired right elbow. Izturis is scheduled to take today off and get some individual work in with minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson at Camden Yards tomorrow.