BOSTON -- Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz was excited to make Monday's start -- his first since being removed from the rotation following a Sept. 5 outing -- armed with confidence from his side sessions with pitching coach Rick Adair and a previous stretch of success against the Red Sox, and, more specifically, at Fenway Park, where he was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three previous games.
But any thoughts of resolution or, in the case of Matusz's disappointing season, any signs that the 24-year-old is back to form faded before the curtain closed on the first inning. For the second consecutive start, and third game this season, Matusz couldn't make it out of the second inning, setting up an ugly 18-9 loss to the Red Sox to split Monday's doubleheader.
"Some of it is confidence," manager Buck Showalter said, when asked to pinpoint the young lefty's struggles. "We are always looking for exactly why, and it's not one thing. If he goes out there and gets the first inning under his belt, you never know what would have happened."
Instead Matusz, who missed the first two months of the season with a strained left intercostal muscle, watched his ERA balloon to 10.68 in 11 starts after allowing six runs over 1 2/3 innings. Staked to a three-run lead before he even threw a pitch, Matusz wasted no time giving the momentum back to Boston, with Jed Lowrie blasting a go-ahead three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.
"With this team, you've got to be able to come out of the gates throwing up zeroes to build confidence and be able to get on top," said Matusz, who started leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury with an 0-2 count before a hanging slider gave way to an opening single. "For me, I've got to be able to have depth on my breaking pitches and to be able to be consistent with that. It's tough, but you've just got to keep working and learn from the mistakes."
While both sides saw subpar starting performances -- with Boston's John Lackey allowing eight runs over 4 1/3 innings -- Baltimore's biggest concern, in the midst of allowing a season high in runs, continues to be the puzzling case of fixing Matusz, the team's projected No. 2 starter who has likely made his final start of the 2011 season.
"He will get home for two or three weeks and kind of settle in [this offseason], and he'll think about things," Showalter said. "And if I know Brian, he's going to come back really fighting. And he's going to start very quickly toward that and he will remember a lot of this. And down the road there will be, hopefully, I know he's feeling some retribution in his mind. Not vindictively toward teams or people, just the whole pitching part of it."
"It will come around," added Matusz, who admitted he will go into this winter with the sole focus of a reprisal. "I know I have the stuff to be able to do it. It's a matter of finding those weaknesses and finding the points that I need to be able to fix and correct it."
A highly touted collegiate prospect who flew through the Minor Leagues, Matusz went 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his final eight starts last season, leading all rookies in strikeouts and games pitched. However, he has been nowhere close to that form this year, extending his losing streak to eight games with Monday's abbreviated outing.
After Marco Scutaro's RBI double in the second, Matusz intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez before giving way to reliever Chris Jakubauskas, who was charged with five runs over an inning of work, to end an ineffective 49-pitch outing.
"This is the first time the guy has had any failure in the pitching department since probably his Little League days," Showalter said of Matusz, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. "It's something he's going to fight through and he will be better in the long run. We know the ability is there and it's a matter of getting over some other hurdles that for the first time have challenged him.
"I still think he's got a chance to be a part of things here, it just hasn't happened for him."
The Orioles' offense, faced with an uphill battle all night, hit Lackey hard but could never recover from the early pitching woes of Matusz and Jakubauskas. Nolan Reimold had three RBIs, while Nick Markakis went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a pair of runs scored. Chris Davis had three hits, including a leadoff double in the fifth, and Lackey exited after rookie Ryan Adams' RBI single.
And while Boston's bullpen did an admirable job in halting Baltimore's offense, Matusz's night was indicative of the kind of performance delivered from nearly all of the Orioles' arms. Right-hander Jeremy Accardo was charged with four runs in a seven-run seventh -- two of which came from Conor Jackson's grand slam served up by Brad Bergesen -- with Clay Rapada the third reliever to be charged with a run in the pivotal frame.
"We kind of needed it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of his club's offensive outburst. "Anytime you get to a bullpen before you want to, there's always that chance. We stayed after them and got some big hits -- Conor Jackson and the grand slam, a lot of good at-bats. We had good at-bats the first game. It just kept going into the second inning."
"You knew they were going to make a run, offensively, regardless," Showalter said of a Boston team fighting to ward off Tampa Bay in the American League Wild Card race. "We couldn't stem the tide out of the bullpen. We tried many things but couldn't get many zeroes up there."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.