Last night the Norfolk Tides were in Allentown, PA to play the Phillies AAA team, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The Pigs are my local team, so of course I was there to see what Brian Matusz looked like as a minor leaguer. And if you just look at his linescore, he dominated! He threw 8 innings in just under 100 pitches. He allowed one run on a solo home run, didn't walk a batter, and struck out five batters. I noticed MASN's Roch Kubatko noted this, blogging "let's not ignore [Matusz]. The Orioles could use some good news tonight."
Here's the thing about this though. I don't think Brian Matusz was very good last night. In fact, I kind of think he stunk. He looked to me exactly like the pitcher with the 5+ ERA and FIP that got himself run out of Baltimore earlier this summer. His fastball sat mostly 89 MPH, and he could touch 91 on the stadium gun but he was still struggling to command the pitch, and the harder he threw it the worst the command looked from my vantage point.
An important note: This is my vantage point. I'm not a scout, and I have no idea how to go from who I am to being a scout. I'd love to pick a scout's brain and/or get a scout's take on last night's performance, sure, but that's not what I'm doing here. These are just my thoughts, and I hope they are as far wrong as they possibly could be.
He didn't generate a lot of swings and misses. He got a couple on the fastball, and maybe one or two on the once-famous change-up. One of his strikeouts came against Pigs first baseman Cody Overbeck, who was up there hacking away furiously at fastballs that didn't look like quality pitches to me.
This is a key point. Matusz had a very good game statistically, but what kind of team is Lehigh Valley? They take by far the fewest walks of any International League team (Rochester is second to worst, and they're 50 walks up on the Iron Pigs), so maybe Matusz's zero walk performance is way less impressive then it appears. The Iron Pigs are also missing one of their best hitters in Erik Kratz who is now the Phillies backup catcher, and their number three hitter, Domonic Brown, has been dealing with knee problems all year. This is a terrible team, beating up on them statistically isn't in and of itself impressive.
This is the kind of game that Matusz should have completely dominated, and he didn't - he skirted by. He didn't look like a guy who had changed his approach or his focus or his...whatever by being sent down. Keith Law, for what it's worth, noted in a chat (I think...I can't find the link, sorry) that the problem with Matusz was make-up. I'd further speculate that he ran into problems, hitters adjusting to him, the arm not responding the way he wanted it to, the stats piling up in a bad way, and he couldn't or wouldn't fix it. I have to hope that the Orioles don't seriously think that the panacea is to send him down to Norfolk for a little bit, and then wait for him to have an artificially good game against a terrible offense, and then hope that that jolted him back to his 2010 form.
Some other notes from the game:
L.J. Hoes, the greatest minor league player who ever lived, did not have a good night at the plate. He didn't swing in his first at-bat and took a called strike three, and then couldn't get the ball out of the infield. He also sac bunted, and was batting 6th. I guess Ron Johnson isn't as impressed with Hoes' hot streak as the Baltimore beat writers are.
However! Hoes did look impressive out in left field, running down a couple of hard hit gap shots that looked like hits off the bat. Just one game, remember, but he looked good out there.
Xavier Avery had a pretty bad baserunning blunder, getting doubled off first base in the 6th. He sort of made up for it when one-time elite prospect Domonic Brown made his own baserunning gaffe in the 9th, trying to go first to third on a ground ball up the middle. Avery fielded it shallow and didn't need a good throw to kill Brown, but he still got him to end the game.
Joe Mahoney is in fact a huge dude. He also clobbered the first pitch he saw, and it may not have landed yet. He also worked a couple of walks in some long at-bats. He was easily the impressive part of the Tides' lineup last night.
Zelous Wheeler started the game at short, but was replaced by Blake Davis. Wheeler's a little thicker than I imagined, and I'm guessing he's only at short because Mahoney and Brandon Waring pretty much need to be on the corners. Waring, by the way, did nothing to distinguish himself.
Nate McClouth made a good looking sliding catch, which prompted the guy sitting behind me to say "I think he used to play in the big leagues!". The same guy also had a vague recollection of Lew Ford being a big leaguer, but he wasn't sure, and he was angry at the Phillies' infielder "you know, that guy, Ty Willingham" who I guess had had a rough game earlier yesterday.