Same strategy keeps working for Matusz

A year ago, Baltimore Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was best known for being the fourth pitcher to post an ERA of 10.00 or higher in a season with at least 40 innings pitched since 1900.

Yesterday, he was the key to the Orioles getting the biggest out of their AL Wild Card Game win.

Worst ERA in Single Season
Minimum 40 IP (since 1900)

Matusz protected a two-run lead in the eighth inning by striking out Josh Hamilton with a man on base. Hamilton entered that matchup hitless in nine at-bats against Matusz, his worst regular-season 0-for against any pitcher.

Matusz’s turnaround has mirrored that of his team, which is headed to the ALDS for the first time since 1997.

Keys to success

Matusz has been a different, far more successful pitcher, since making the conversion to middle relief.

In his last 18 regular-season appearances, he allowed two runs and five hits in 13 1/3 innings, with 19 strikeouts and three walks. Opponents hit .114 with a .352 OPS against him.

Matusz has been effective all season against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .175 opponents’ batting average though he’s used a different approach against them as a reliever than as a starter.

Matusz retired Hamilton on a pitch on the outer-third of the plate. Of the 25 outs that Matusz has gotten as a reliever against left-handed hitters, 21 have come on pitches to that outer-third area, or just off the outside corner.

When Matusz was a starter earlier this season, about 59 percent of his outs came on pitches to that area.

This approach was nothing new in terms of Matusz getting Hamilton to whiff. Of the 10 times Matusz has gotten him out, seven have been with an outer-third pitch. Six of those outs, including Friday’s, were strikeouts.

Hamilton’s struggles

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton went a combined 2-for-17 in the last four games that ended the season, all Rangers losses.

He was 1-for-9 with five strikeouts against lefties. Four of those whiffs came on outer-third (or off the corner) pitches.

Saunders was good too

Joe Saunders came up huge for the Orioles, allowing only one run in 5 2/3 innings to beat Yu Darvish.

Saunders allowed more than one run in 16 of his last 18 regular-season starts in 2012. He entered 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Rangers Ballpark (2nd worst ERA for an active pitcher), but held the Rangers down.

Six balls were put in play against Saunders with runners on base and all six were on the ground, which helped lead to three double plays. Saunders induced only two double plays combined in his first six career starts in Texas.

The Rangers scored only one run. They were held to one run or fewer only 19 times in the regular season, second-fewest in the majors (the Yankees were just 18 times).

Nothing new for this bullpen

The Orioles bullpen has gotten big outs late in games all season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that they had the third-best regular-season record since 1900 when leading after seven innings, 74-0.

The Orioles fell a little bit short of being best on this list. The 2011 Tigers hold the top mark at 77-0.

The Orioles will now try to match what those Tigers did last season- beat the Yankees in the ALDS.