Brian Matusz is a pitcher with a very limited skill set, and his ineffectiveness doing any thing outside that narrow window tends to make him a liability at times. Tonight was one of those nights, as he was brought in retire a left-handed pinch hitter in the eighth inning of a tie game. Once he came in, Rays manager Joe Maddon pinch hit for the pinch hitter, someone named Jerry Sands. Sands only had 11 plate appearances coming into the game, but he's a right-handed hitter. Because he is a right-handed hitter, he beat Matusz with a two-run home run to give the Rays a 5-3 lead. With only three outs to go, it was enough for the Rays, who won 5-4.
Of course, it wasn't only Matusz who is to blame for the loss. There is never one player as we all know. If the offense had been able to get to starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi for more than two runs, the Matusz meltdown may never have had happened. If David Lough hadn't bunted J.J. Hardy to second base in the seventh inning to put him in scoring position for Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph, who knows how the inning would have turned out. If Nelson Cruz could have managed more than an infield single in the eighth inning, or Steve Pearce's line drive to left field had been a foot to the right, the Orioles might have walked away with a win. But what we'll remember is Matusz, who is so awful at pitching to righties that he couldn't even retire a fella named Jerry Sands. Sands, a 26 year old with 77 career games in the majors but only 16 since 2011, got the best of Matusz.
In his career, right-handed hitters .304/.370/.490 against Matusz. This year, despite years of data working against him, Matusz has somehow faced more righties than lefties, and those righties are OPS'ing .875. He's now given up 16 hits to right-handed batters, and 9 of them have gone for extra bases. So how is this allowed to happen? In some instances, Matusz has given up hits to righties that get hits off of everyone. Hitters like Andrew McCutchen and Dustin Pedroia, for example. Why is he ever allowed to face those guys? But he's also given up hits to Robinson Chirinos and Dioner Navarro and, now, Jerry Sands. And if he can't get out hitters like that, why is he on the team?
I'm being harsh on Matusz, and possibly unfair. But it's very frustrating to know that any team with a righty on the bench can throw him up against Matusz and completely take away any advantage the Orioles were trying to get by bringing him into the game in the first place.
The underwhelming offense and blow up by Matusz overshadow the fact that the starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen added to the O's run of quality starts, which now stands at eight. It was a classic Chen start, really. He gave up three runs on two home runs and walked only one, with a pitch count jacked up due to approximately 500 foul balls against him. He got through 6 2/3 innings, though, and kept his team in the game long enough for them to come back. And they did come back, once!
Down 3-0 in the top of the sixth inning, Nick Markakis doubled ahead of Adam Jones, who hit his 12th home run of the year. The game was tied in the eighth when the Orioles loaded the bases with one out, but could only score one run on an RBI infield single from Cruz. Neither Hardy nor the pinch-hitting Pearce could knock in any more, though, squashing the rally. Pearce nearly had a bases-clearing double, but it hit just a little bit foul in left field, and he ended up grounding out to end the inning.
The loss gives the Orioles a record of 35-34, and they fell 1/2 game behind the idle Yankees to fall into third place. They are back in action tomorrow with Miguel Gonzalez returning form the disabled list to face former Oriole Erik Bedard.