On the Baltimore Orioles' depth chart, Brian Matusz does show up ... in the No. 6 slot among the club's starting pitchers, which usually isn't great since most teams have only five starting pitchers, but is actually pretty great because Brian Matusz finished last season with a 10.69 ERA, which set some sort of record that you don't want to set.
Matusz was the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, and just a year ago was regarded as one of the building blocks -- perhaps the most important block -- in the Orioles' future plans. And then suddenly not so much.
And now suddenly maybe. Adam Berry (via MLB.com):
Matusz threw four shutout innings on Saturday against the Phillies, striking out four. He was even better on Thursday afternoon against the Tigers, tossing four more scoreless frames while striking out six.
He threw 60 pitches to the 15 batters he faced on Thursday, and 41 went for strikes. He struck out Prince Fielder in the fourth inning. His fastball was consistently at 92 mph, often touching 93, and he had good command of his offspeed pitches.
His disastrous 2011 season has been well documented: He holds the record for the highest single-season ERA (10.69) in Major League history for a pitcher making 10 or more starts.
If Matusz continues to pitch well this month (we're told), he could win a spot in the Orioles' starting rotation.
That's almost entirely irrelevant. It doesn't really matter who's in the Orioles' rotation this season, because the Orioles will be lucky to finish in fourth place. The only thing that matters is finding three or four good young starting pitchers for the future. And discovering that Matusz is one of those rare creatures can happen whether he's starting for the Orioles or starting for their triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia.
What matters is that he's pitching well. Wherever he's doing it. Which is why I think this spring matters. People like me like to say that spring training doesn't really matter, but that's not really true. It doesn't matter much to Albert Pujols or Tim Lincecum or Joey Votto or Roy Halladay. But it matters a lot to Jamie Moyer and Brian Matusz, because a month ago we had little reason to believe in them. And with little reason to believe in them, both pitchers faced the extinction of their chosen professional careers.
You think that doesn't matter? Try it sometime.
If Brian Matusz came out this spring and got hammered, or couldn't find the strike zone, the Orioles wouldn't have given up on him. Not completely. He's still got too much lightning in that young left arm. But after what happened last season ... well, if Matusz struggled this spring, it would have been a piece of evidence, however flimsy, that last season wasn't just some fluke, soon to be forgotten when the ex-phenom blazed his way to predicted glories.
Maybe it was a fluke, though. Or, more likely, an injury. Obviously, eight innings in March don't wipe out six terrible months. But those eight innings matter to Brian Matusz, I'll bet. Just ask him.