The Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees are currently tied at one game apiece in the American League Division Series. While New York has relied on familiar names like CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano to deliver yet another postseason appearance, the Orioles have relied on a roster of castoffs and rookies.
Brian Matusz, a former first-round draft pick and failed starter, has emerged as a bullpen ace for Baltimore.
Matusz posted one of the worst seasons for a starting pitcher in major-league history in 2011. The young left-hander went just 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA and 2.11 WHIP in 12 starts. He surrendered a whopping 18 home runs in just 49 2/3 innings. Matusz was expected to begin the 2012 season in Triple-A Norfolk but a spring training injury to fellow lefty Zach Britton pushed Matusz back into the Orioles' plans.
Matusz's struggles continued into 2012. In a July 1 start against the Cleveland Indians, Matusz allowed four runs in four innings on seven hits and three walks. The loss dropped Matusz's record to 5-10 and raised his ERA to a robust 5.42. The Orioles, who were surprisingly in the thick of the pennant race, demoted the struggling youngster to Triple-A Norfolk.
Matusz was converted to a reliever during his time in the minor leagues. The Orioles brought him back to the big leagues to serve as a lefty out of the bullpen after Troy Patton was lost to the disabled list. Matusz flourished in his new role. In 18 appearances out of the bullpen, Matusz has pitched to a 1.35 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP. He has allowed just five hits and three walks in 13 1/3 innings while striking out 19 batters.
The real test of Matusz's improvement -- and the club's faith in him -- has come in the postseason. Matusz has pitched in each of Baltimore's first three playoff games, registering five strikeouts in just 2 2/3 innings. Manager Buck Showalter has not shied away from using Matusz as a weapon against left-handed batters. Matusz has retired power-hitting stars like Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano in close games as the Orioles have continued their unlikely run. If the Orioles are able to win their first American League pennant since 1983, Matusz figures to be a key factor.
Brian Matusz and the Orioles have come a long way in 2012.
*Information gathered from http://www.baseball-reference.com.
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