Last night I got my first look at the Orioles 2008 first round pick, left-hander Brian Matusz. You can take a look at the boxscore from last night and probably guess he looked pretty darn good. In case you missed it, the 22-year old allowed just one unearned run on three hits and a walk while striking out ten in six innings during his Double-A debut. Not a bad debut to say the least.
The first thing I noticed about Matusz is his ability to throw any pitch in any count. In fact, he worked a little backwards at times tonight going to the off-speed stuff when he needed a strike, especially the changeup. Of course, if I had changeup like his I'd go to it pretty often as well.
Matusz commands a fantastic changeup on both sides of the plate with good sink. He throws it at the perfect 10 MPH under his fastball (80-81MPH) with tremendous arm action , which basically means he throws it with the same arm action as his fastball. How good is his changeup? It's a put away pitch as he registered four strikeouts, two infield popups, a ground out to short, and lazy fly ball to short left on it last night. Not one batter put a good swing on the pitch. His changeup is a plus-plus major league pitch and one of the best I've seen in the minor leagues. To me, his changeup was his best pitch, but let's not take anything away from his curveballs.
Yes, I said curveballs. Matusz throws two curveballs, a slow one in the 71-73 MPH range and a real hammer with 78-79 breaker. Surprisingly, both are very effective pitches. I've seen a lot of pitchers try to throw a slow curveball in that low 70s range and most of them usually roll up the plate and are not good pitches. However, Matusz's slow curveball has very good late bite and he did a very good job of keeping it low in the zone. The high 70's curveball is a real hammer with hard late big break that gave the Phillies hitter's fits all nights. He recorded four strikeouts and a groundout with his curveball and if you are wondering how lefties faired against the pitch, two of the four lefties he faced struck out looking at the pitch.
So, it's time to talk about his fastball now right? Not so fast my friends. Mr. Matusz has a cutter that he uses very effectively against left-handers. This is the pitch that had some scouts confused as to what to call it because it breaks like a slider, but it's a very late break and doesn't break all that much. He threw it in the 86-87 MPH range and he usually threw inside to left-handers with the pitch breaking back over the plate. One of his ten strikeouts was a cutter to a lefthander. It's an average pitch, but certainly a good pitch against left-handers as something different.
Now, onto his fastball. Coming out of college, the only downside heard about Matusz was whispers by some scouts that his fastball was average at best and did not have a lot of movement. Honestly, his fastball might be his third best pitch but that doesn't mean he can't be effective with it. He throws an 89-92 MPH fastball that has some tail at the end and last night he had some trouble commanding the pitch. All three of the hits off him came on fastballs and early on he struggled at times to find the strike zone with the pitch. In the second inning last night he walked the leadoff batter on four straight fastballs then allowed two straight singles on fastballs before going to a steady diet of changeups and curveballs to get out of the inning with just the one run. Every batter who reached against him reached on a fastball and he recorded just one of his strikeouts with the pitch. He also recorded two ground outs and a pop up with the pitch. Overall, if I was grading out his fastball I'd grade him 50 on velocity, 50 on movement, and 50 on command although I expect the command of the pitch to continue to improve.
In conclusion, Matusz is a pretty special pitcher who has five pitches he commands around the strike zone. He's got a putaway curveball and changeup and if he keeps his fastball out of the middle of the plate, he's going to be pitching a in a major league stadium near you sooner than later.
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Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.