Orioles pitcher Matusz determined to regain form

Baltimore’s Brian Matusz says he learned a lot from his

struggles last season and is determined to regain the form that

once made him one of baseball’s brightest young pitching

prospects.

The 25-year-old left-hander worked on his strength and

conditioning with former Orioles star Brady Anderson this winter,

consulted with pitching coach Rick Adair about his mechanics on the

mound and had conversations with his dad about what it will take to

put a disappointing year behind him.

Matusz impressed teammates and manager Buck Showalter during his

first spring training bullpen session, however all agree it’s too

early declare he’s back – much less assume he’ll be able to win a

spot in the starting rotation coming out of what figures to be a

competitive camp.

”I feel like the stuff is there, just a little bit inconsistent

right now. So, I’m on a good track. I feel good about these

upcoming weeks,” Matusz, 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts last

year, said Thursday.

”My mind-set is to just compete and be myself mainly,” he

said. ”Just go out, focusing on the things I do well and compete

and have fun with it at the same time.”

After the season he had in 2011, that would be a step forward –

even if Matusz doesn’t win a job by opening day. There could be as

many as a dozen candidates for the five-man rotation, including

left-handed offseason acquisitions Tsuyoshi Wada, Wei-Yin Chen and

Dana Eveland.

Matusz lost his last nine decisions, and his ERA last season was

the highest-ever for a pitcher making at least 10 starts. He was

scratched from his first scheduled start of 2011, placed on the

disabled list because of strained rib cage muscle and never

recovered. The Orioles demoted him to the minors in late June,

recalled him in August and dropped from the rotation in

September.

”Last year was a lot of negatives. … No one wants to

experience struggles. But going through them, I was able to learn a

lot,” Matusz said, adding that the humbling season taught him to

”never get complacent with anything,” to keep battling and never

give up on himself.

The fourth pick in the 2008 draft sought Anderson’s help this

winter to improve his strength and conditioning and said he

reported to spring training feeling stronger and faster. Adair

helped him with his mechanics, and his dad talked to him about

”getting back to where I was as a younger kid and getting to the

things that worked well for me.”

Matusz is encouraged by the way he’s thrown the ball since

arriving at spring training.

”I’ve never been into looking at video, watching too much film.

I like to judge a lot of my outings just off of feel. I feel like

it’s hard to remember what that old form felt like, especially

after the struggles of last year and just really being out of my

element,” the left-hander said.

”But I’m starting to feel like that old form is coming back,”

he added. ”Being able to just have confidence on the mound, just

being athletic, letting the ball just come out and putting a lot of

conviction behind the ball.”

Catcher Matt Wieters was impressed with the bullpen session

Matusz threw on Wednesday.

”Last year it looked like he was just feeling for it all year

and couldn’t quite get into a groove where he felt like he was just

pitching again,” Wieters said.

”The hard thing when you’re struggling is to be able to just

try and forget about everything and just go out there and throw it

like you know how to throw. … It looked like he was feeling free,

no worry or anything going on. That’s the biggest thing, especially

this early in camp where you’re healthy and feeling like you can

really let it go. That how you can start to work on everything you

need to work on.”

Showalter likes what he’s seen, too, but stressed it’s just a

start.

”I thought he had a really good first day throwing here,” the

manager said. ”He’s in a good place mentally and physically. Those

are two things that you like to start out with. I’m excited to see

him pitch here and hopefully be a part of our staff.”

Showalter and Wieters both believe Matusz will be driven this

spring by the competition for jobs, as well as the pitcher’s desire

to put the disappointment of 2011 behind.

The manager has mixed emotions about the latter.

”One thing I like about the position we’re in with a lot of our

young pitchers is they’ve gone through the criteria that they’re

all eventually going to go through. Some of it is good, and some of

it is bad,” Showalter said. ”I want him to move forward and put

it behind him, but I also want him remember some of it.”

AP Baseball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this

report.