TORONTO -- It was better than Monday's outing, but Orioles starter Brian Matusz -- who has worked harder than arguably anyone inside the clubhouse in his offseason preparation -- wasn't interested in giving himself kudos for incremental progress. Instead, the 25-year-old lefty gave an uncharacteristically critical assessment of Sunday's 5 2/3 innings start, which resulted in a 9-2 O's loss to Toronto.
"[With the club] coming out with two straight wins against Toronto, I wanted to come out and get the sweep today," said Matusz, who instead ran his career-high losing streak to 11, the longest active stretch in the Majors.
"This is so frustrating, you know. I know what went on last year, I know it was a horrible year and so far I'm off to a horrible start, at 0-2. And it's building up. And it's frustrating, and it's flat-out not getting the job done."
Matusz went 1-10 with a 10.69 ERA in 2011, dealing with both injury and underperformance, and dedicated himself this winter to getting back on track. A former-first round pick and the Orioles' frontline lefty in 2010, Matusz spent the offseason building up strength and endurance with special assistant Brady Anderson, and he arrived at camp in noticeably better shape.
Matusz made the rotation after a solid camp, but despite showcasing much better stuff than 2011, he has been unable to replicate his spring success in his first two starts, allowing nine earned runs on 13 hits and eight walks over 9 2/3 innings.
On Sunday, he was able to largely limit the damage, using three double-play balls to take the mound in the sixth with a 2-1 lead. But a pair of favorable counts went wayward, resulting in a two-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion, and Matusz exited after a two-out walk to Rajai Davis.
"I was really erratic out of the windup today, never found a rhythm," said Matusz, who allowed seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts. "At times when I got ahead in the count, I didn't make the quality pitch to finish it. [I] just flat-out didn't get the job done.
"Those are key at bats right there, getting ahead of [Jose] Bautista and not being able to finish him off, leadoff double, and then getting ahead of Encarnacion and throwing a horrible slider that he hit out. I got to get that ball down and make better pitches."
Making matters worse was what happened after Matusz departed. Reliever Kevin Gregg allowed both of Matusz's inherited runners to score with two outs in what became a seven-run sixth inning.
Manager Buck Showalter wasn't quite as critical of Matusz, saying that the 25-year-old was better than his first start, although his fastball command -- he has walked four batters in both starts -- is still not where it needs to be. Asked if Matusz's mental makeup helps him stick with him, Showalter said there's "no way to handicap" what will happen with the rotation, or Matusz, moving forward.
"I don't think it's an open-ended [ticket]," Showalter said. "It's a competitive place. And so far, so good. It's better than the way it ended last year, but he knows there's another level he's capable of. And for us to get to where we want to go, he's going to have to be a part of that."
"You can't hide the ability to do something here, if you're good enough it's going to show up, if you're not, there's no Cinderellas here," Showalter added. "It'll show up if you're not. So all of your curiosity, and ours, too, a little bit, is all going to be satisfied. Keep running him out there and we'll see."
While Matusz's line could have been helped by the bullpen in a 4-2 game, when he handed the ball to Gregg the floodgates opened.
Gregg gave up an RBI single to No. 9 batter Jeff Mathis and a two-run double to Yunel Escobar. Kelly Johnson followed with an RBI double before Gregg -- who was booed when he took the hill against his former club -- issued back-to-back walks to load the bases. He plunked Brett Lawrie to walk in a run, earning cheers from the crowd of 20,252, and exited the 27-pitch, seven-run inning with three runs charged to him while recording just one out.
Removed from the closer role in favor of Jim Johnson, Gregg has been used in a variety of different situations so far this year. Sunday's outing was the first time he pitched in a game prior to the seventh inning since April 29, 2007.
"When I'm being used is something I have to deal with," Gregg said. "The bottom line is getting people out in whatever situation they put you in. Is it a familiar situation? No, it's not. It's something I'll have to get used to as I go through it."
The seven-run frame was the biggest surrendered by the Orioles this year. In his first three outings, Gregg has allowed five runs on seven hits, three walks and a hit-batter over 3 2/3 innings, giving him a 12.27 ERA.
"He made some mistakes and paid the price for it," Showalter said of Gregg's outing. "It's not from lack of effort or anything. ... Kevin's trying, he understands that whatever role he pitches in can be very important to us."
The Orioles were largely held in check by starter Kyle Drabek, who gave up just two runs (one earned) over seven innings. Adam Jones connected for a monster solo homer on a 2-1 fastball from Drabek, sending the ball bouncing off the electronic scoreboard over the second deck of the left-field seats in the sixth.
"It's still awesome winning a series here since we hadn't won one since '08, but if you get two, you want the three," Jones said. "You want to stomp on their throats. We were unable to do it. Still, saying that, we were happy we won a series up here. It's been four years. So we build on that and go to Chicago and be ready [on Monday]."
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.