LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brian Matusz took nine straight losses to end the 2011 season, meaning that technically, he still owns the longest active skid in baseball. But he put together another streak on Saturday and Thursday, one that shows signs of hope for his future.
Matusz threw four shutout innings on Saturday against the Phillies, striking out four. He was even better on Thursday afternoon against the Tigers, tossing four more scoreless frames while striking out six.
He threw 60 pitches to the 15 batters he faced on Thursday, and 41 went for strikes. He struck out Prince Fielder in the fourth inning. His fastball was consistently at 92 mph, often touching 93, and he had good command of his offspeed pitches.
His combined line over the last two outings: eight innings, five hits, no runs, no walks, one hit batsman and 10 strikeouts.
"It's always important to come back with a solid outing after a good one," Matusz said. "But for me they're all the same. They're all important."
And they all could prove to be a factor when it's decided whether Matusz makes the rotation. As much potential as the 24-year-old lefty has shown at times, particularly when he flew from Double-A to the Majors in 2009, just as much has gone wrong. His disastrous 2011 season has been well documented: He holds the record for the highest single-season ERA (10.69) in Major League history for a pitcher making 10 or more starts.
So even if it is only Spring Training, as we're reminded so often this time of year, the fact that Matusz has put together consecutive quality starts against two legitimately fearsome Major League lineups -- the Tigers fielded what should be their Opening Day starting nine -- is worth noting. From his improved conditioning to Thursday's start, the former top prospect has done everything possible this spring to show he's on the right track.
"It's early, but I just like seeing the ball coming out of his hand good, commanding all his pitches regardless of where and who he's facing," manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm happy for Brian as much as anything. He's got a good look on his face."
After his 2011 season, the last thing Matusz needed this spring was more reason to doubt himself. He said that he wasn't thinking about last year when he took the mound on Thursday. But the next time Matusz struggles, Showalter acknowledged, will perhaps prove to be a greater test than facing Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. If his confidence -- that "good look on his face" -- goes away, how will he respond?
That will be a matter for another day, as will Matusz's destination come Opening Day. For now he is pitching well and having fun doing it.
"Absolutely. I had a great time out there today," Matusz said. "We've got a great group of guys on this team. Guys are keeping it loose, having fun, picking each other up, so that makes it a lot easier with the type of teammates we have."
Veteran catcher Ronny Paulino, who joined the Orioles three weeks into camp and caught Matusz's bullpen session earlier this week, started Thursday's game by telling his pitcher, simply, "Hey, let's have fun. I like to have fun."
Paulino then let Matusz attack the zone as he saw fit, which he was able to do effectively and with excellent command.
"When you feel better about your stuff, you attack the strike zone more. He's not that [afraid] of the barrel of the bat as much," Showalter said. "He's doing a lot of things right now to take people off the sweet part of the bat, and that's really what pitching is."
Matusz didn't look that much into it, noting that he was just working on his stuff, mixing his pitches to keep hitters off balance and throwing strikes. He didn't look that much into anything about his performance, in fact, keeping his postgame comments brief and talking about how every outing is the same to him, whether it's in Spring Training, April or late September.
He said that he didn't feel any more pressure because he was facing a loaded Tigers lineup, and he didn't particularly care if that made it feel like a regular-season game or not. He has no idea how many innings he will throw in his next start.
But the next time Matusz pitches, with the way he has thrown in his last two starts, he has a chance to keep his current streak of success -- and his hopes of making the rotation -- alive and well.
"Every game of success is a confidence-booster," Matusz said. "Let's just keep it going."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.