Brian Matusz has had bad stretches before.
But, to the Orioles’ left-hander’s credit, he always seems to turn things around and, ultimately, becomes a contributor.
That’s not happening now, though. Even the slightest glimmers aren’t there.
And that means the Orioles have a real decision to make – and an expensive one, too. Do they rely on Matusz’s track record, that he retires lefties, and keep ushering him out to the mound?
Or do they look at the empirical evidence so far this year and consider cutting bait?
Ten of 16 lefties this season have reached base against Matusz – a .625 OBP. That includes five of seven Tuesday in the Orioles’ 10-0 loss. He gave up two homers: To the first batter he faced, Kyle Seager, a lefty, and to ex-teammate, Nelson Cruz, a right-hander.
It’s been a nightmare season for Matusz, who began the year on the disabled list with a left intercostal strain. He was reinstated April 23 and has yet to look anything like the guy who held left-handers to a .186 batting average last year and .193 average from 2013 to 2015.
The numbers are disastrous. In six innings spanning seven games, he has allowed eight earned runs on 11 hits and eight walks. He’s issued five walks in 16 plate appearances to left-handers. He gave up just four in 108 plate appearances last year.
Nothing is working for Matusz.
“It’s not a good feeling, obviously,” Matusz said. “I have been there before, had struggles, and fortunately in the past have been able to get through that. And I’m kind of in the situation where that’s what I’m gonna have to do now.”
He said physically he is fine. And it’s not for a lack of trying.
“Yeah, I feel healthy,” he said. “I just don’t feel like I’ve found a rhythm yet. I haven’t found that groove. It’s something I’ve just got to keep working on, keep throwing, getting stronger and keep going from there.”
If there is any hint of an ailment, putting Matusz back on the disabled list could be an option. Otherwise, the possibilities are not palatable.
Let him keep pitching and hope he figures it out. But with a team that has playoff aspirations, that’s a dicey proposition.
The other is a salty proposition: Put the former No. 1 pick on waivers and hope someone else absorbs what’s remaining of his $3.9 million contract, which is approximately $3 million.
It’s highly unlikely someone would grab Matusz at that salary. So he’d likely clear waivers. That’s when things would get even trickier.
Because of his service time, he cannot be sent to the minors without his consent. And it’s hard to believe he would give his consent, knowing that another team would probably wait until he is a free agent, and then offer him a job. So that would most likely force the Orioles to release Matusz.
In that scenario, a new team would only have to pay a prorated part of the league minimum ($507,500). Certainly, another club would do that. He has been effective in the past.
So the Orioles are really stuck here. They have no other lefty on the staff besides closer Zach Britton. They don’t have an obvious replacement at Triple-A, where former major leaguers Zach Phillips and Andy Oliver are waiting for another chance, but aren’t overwhelmingly inspiring names. T.J. McFarland is there, too. But he’s a lefty long man/spot starter, not a specialist.
Matusz has been with the organization almost longer than anyone else; he was the fourth overall pick in 2008. He has plenty of friends in that clubhouse. And eating $3 million is never a good thing.
But the bottom line is Matusz needs to get lefties out. And if the Orioles don’t think he can, they have to find someone who will. It’s too important of a role to keep rolling the dice.