Matusz adapts to deliver key outs in playoff relief
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TIMORE -- Brian Matusz said Monday night that he's "still the same guy" now that he does his work out of the Orioles' bullpen. That may be, but the results hardly could be more different.
Matusz stepped up in a high-leverage situation for the third time in as many playoff games in the Orioles' 3-2 win over the Yankees, helping Baltimore even the American League Division Series heading back to New York. A scuffling starter demoted to the Minors only a few months ago, the left-hander has carved out an integral role in a Baltimore bullpen that has helped drive the club's success.
"Right now I consider myself a reliever," Matusz said. "That's what my role and my job is to do, and I'm just rolling with it and having fun with it."
Matusz was thrown into a dicey situation in Monday's seventh inning, entering with a 3-2 lead, two outs and a runner on second. Manager Buck Showalter immediately ordered an intentional walk of Robinson Cano, and after Matusz bounced a slider to Nick Swisher for a wild pitch, the Yankees had the potential tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second.
Swisher worked the count to 3-2, but Matusz won the battle, inducing a harmless fly ball to left field.
"I still knew I had to make pitches and go after Swisher and throw strikes," Matusz said, "and I was able to keep the ball down, throw fastballs down and get him out and end that inning."
He then worked around Mark Teixeira's leadoff single in the eighth, retiring the next three hitters -- striking out two -- to notch the hold, his latest stellar postseason performance.
In the Wild Card win over the Rangers on Friday, Matusz struck out Josh Hamilton when the Texas slugger appeared as the potential tying run in the eighth inning. On Sunday he retired the heart of the Yankees' lineup to preserve an eighth-inning deadlock.
It was on Aug. 24 when the Orioles brought Matusz back from Triple-A Norfolk to pitch as a reliever. The 25-year-old had gone 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 Major League starts this season and 21-33 with a 5.51 mark in 68 career outings.
But in 18 regular-season appearances out of the bullpen, he allowed two runs on five hits in 13 1/3 innings, with 19 strikeouts. In a relief role, Matusz doesn't have to pace himself and gets more matchups with lefties, whom he has held to a .219 average in his career.
"He comes out with the right mindset," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He comes out there ready to go and laying it on the line for one inning. He's going out there and using all his stuff. Brian, even when he was starting and not throwing as well, he still pitched well against left-handers."