Matusz awaits fate as rotation shapes up

As Brian Matusz continues his quest to bounce back after a disastrous 2011 season, the 25-year-old can say one thing for himself: He's still standing.

Others are not.

Left-hander Dana Eveland was designated for assignment Thursday, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter said it would be a "push" for right-hander Alfredo Simon to make the rotation.

The numbers are dwindling, but Matusz still isn't guaranteed a spot in the O's rotation despite a solid spring. He's gone 1-1 with a 3.20 ERA and a team-leading 18 strikeouts.

Tsuyoshi Wada will get an eleventh hour look this final week. Meanwhile, Friday's start against the Tigers will most likely be Matusz's last opportunity to prove 2011 was an anomaly.

Failure has been the young southpaw's greatest motivator.

"Basically, never get complacent is what I've learned most last season," Matusz said. "I've grown up more than anything. I've learned to not take things for granted. There should never be a point in my career where this game is easy. It's going to be hard all the way through and a matter of just continuing to work hard and stay on top.

Working hard physically has been Matusz's method of attack. Pinpointing the reason for his 2011 struggles was fairly easy.

"I could just tell when things weren't going my way, I just wasn't strong. My stamina wasn't there. My velocity had really gone down, so I knew that was the main factor, the main ingredient, the strength and conditioning side of things," Matusz said.

With former Oriole Brady Anderson guiding him, Matusz began a strict workout regimen in the offseason. But when Matusz arrived at spring training he wasn't inclined to stare at radar guns like some meathead gym rat harping on pure strength. Media and critics were focused solely on velocity. The lefty was more concerned with feel.

"I can tell whether a ball is coming out of my hand the right way or not. I don't need to look at the numbers or a radar gun to feel that, cause I can just tell. I try not to focus too much on that, rather than focus on what I need to do to generate as much power and torque with my body as I can," Matusz said.

So far, so good. This spring Matusz's velocity has been back up in the 91-92 mph range.

"I feel good. I feel like I've made a lot of progress over this spring, really making some good adjustments in my mechanics, just continuously getting stronger," Matusz said.

Matusz could make a strong closing argument by coming out and dealing against the Tigers in his final spring training start Friday. While it's believed the organization began the spring hoping to start Matusz in Triple-A, where he could prove he's ready again for a shot at the big leagues, the fact remains that Matusz has gotten more innings than Wada, his biggest competition right now. That has to factor in Showalter's decision.

This time next week, Matusz will know if he cracked the rotation. Whether he starts in the majors or minors, Matusz is just looking forward to rediscovering the joy of playing professional baseball again.

"I've played this game ever since I was a little kid and just loved it. I'd never gone through the struggles like I did last year, and at times, I lost track of how fun this game can really be," Matusz said.