KANSAS CITY -- The Orioles' Opening Day starter Jason Hammel is not shy about acknowledging that he fell short of expectations the first few months of the season, and the right-hander is eager to start fresh with Tuesday's second-half debut.
"I always expect the best, and I'm not afraid to tell people I'm disappointed with myself," said Hammel, who pitched to a 5.24 ERA in his first 19 starts. "But I'm not going to allow that to get in my way. There's a certain amount of time that you do get in your own way, but if you continue to stay disappointed, negative things happen. So, I'm going to continue plugging along. It's baseball; it's fun. I wasn't really having fun the first half. I'm going to get back to going out, throwing strikes and having fun."
The Orioles, who started the second half with a series sweep in Texas, will need Hammel to revert to last season's form if they are going to stay in an American League East race that by all accounts will come down to the wire. A big part of last year's success, the 30-year-old Hammel went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 2012, making just 20 starts as he battled a right knee injury that required surgery and resulted in two separate stints on the disabled list.
Hammel, who has lost his last four decisions, was healthy at the All-Star break for the first time since 2008, and he used the time off to recharge and start fresh. He threw a bullpen session over the weekend when the team was in Texas and said his struggles were not mechanical; it just comes down to fastball command.
"Really what it was, was one or two pitches every game that was costly," Hammel said. "It's not like I was pitching terrible; it was just costly errors. The break was welcome; [I was] beating myself up. Really frustrated that I wasn't doing what I know I can do. But It is what it is. Second half, start fresh."
Matusz making impact despite limited time on field
KANSAS CITY -- Orioles reliever Brian Matusz can provide an impact simply by warming up. Just ask manager Buck Showalter, who has used the lefty just five times in July but cites the presence of Matusz as a key checkmate for other clubs.
Matusz has held left-handed hitters to a .175/.230/.298 line in 123 career relief outings, and he has been a valuable weapon in his first full season in the bullpen. Even if the 26-year-old's name has lately stayed out of the box score. Matusz, who has a 3.47 ERA in 42 games, faced two batters in Sunday's win and has recorded two outs since July 10.
"It's always a tough time after the break to get your bullpen back in routine," said Showalter, who has not pitched lefties Troy Patton and T.J. McFarland since July 13. "We talked about it a little bit last night; the matchups haven't been there.
"I've been happy with his durability. He's been carrying good stuff. We'll go through periods here where he'll probably need a day off. It will change. A lot of it depends on what the competition presents. But Brian is capable of getting right-handed hitters out. I think you will see him only get better at that as he goes on."
Matusz pitched to a 1.35 ERA in 18 relief outings last year, stranding all 14 inherited runners, and he has stranded 40 of 43 since making the move to the bullpen at the end of last season. While his appearances have been down lately, he pitched in 13 games -- totaling 9 1/3 innings -- in May and 10 in June (10 2/3), he still prepares with the mindset that he will get in every game.
"Whether I'm going to get warmed up or not, my job is to pitch when I'm called upon," he said. "And that's all I can do, is take advantage of it when I get my opportunities, do my role and do my part to help this team win."
One of the team's starting rotation candidates this spring, Matusz is not a starting option for the Orioles this season given how long it would take for him to get stretched out and the team's need to have him as a late-inning lefty. But what of his future in the organization?
"He's still going to have a four-pitch mix; I would never say never on that," Showalter said of Matusz, who is a career 21-33 with a 5.51 ERA in 68 starts. "He still presents himself as an option to start."
• Steve Johnson (left oblique strain) will join short-season Aberdeen on Wednesday, Showalter said, and start his rehab assignment there.
• Kevin Gausman, who threw 70 pitches in his first start at Triple-A Norfolk since being optioned, will continue to be stretched out and remains an option for the big league rotation.
• Jim Johnson notched his 107th career save Saturday and is alone in second place on the club's all-time saves list. He trails Gregg Olson (160).
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.