CHICAGO -- Once a highly touted prospect, left-hander Brian Matusz found himself out the big leagues -- and out of a job -- in mid-June after he was traded by Baltimore and released by Atlanta.
That's when the Chicago Cubs called to offer Matusz a minor-league deal. Six weeks later, the 29-year-old southpaw will make his Cubs debut on national television Sunday night in a rubber match against the Seattle Mariners.
Another Oriole-turned-Cub, reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, said he was eager to welcome his new teammate.
"Matusz and I played together for quite a while," said Arrieta, who spent parts of four seasons in Baltimore. "I've seen him pitch extremely well. ... He's a smart guy. He's got some really good pitches that he knows how to use effectively. I look forward to watching him pitch."
Chicago (62-41) will look to bounce back from a rare late-inning meltdown. On Saturday, the Cubs led 1-0 in the eighth inning when closer Aroldis Chapman allowed a two-out, two-run double to Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin. Seattle (52-50) tacked on two more runs to improve to 11-5 in interleague play this season.
The Cubs dropped to 56-2 this season when leading after eight innings.
Seattle now turns to ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-4, 3.45 ERA), who will make his 13th start of the season and his third start since coming off the 15-day disabled list because of a strained right calf. In two starts since his return, Hernandez has allowed nine runs in 12 2/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hernandez has faced the Cubs once in his career. On June 24, 2010, he limited Cubs hitters to two runs and five hits in nine innings. He walked one and struck out eight.
This time, Hernandez will encounter a much tougher opponent. The Cubs team he shut down in 2010 included ordinary hitters such as Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Xavier Nady, Chad Tracy and Koyie Hill. This year's lineup includes five National League All-Stars and has scored 510 runs -- fourth in the majors.
"It's another game," Hernandez told the Tacoma News-Tribune. "I've just got to go out there and do my job."
The same could be said for Matusz, although his prime-time assignment at Wrigley Field hardly qualifies as just another game. A strong outing could earn Matusz additional starting opportunities as Cubs manager Joe Maddon looks to use a sixth starter at times during the second half of the season to keep the rest of his rotation fresh.
Matusz was 27-41 with a 4.85 ERA in 279 career games (68 starts) with Baltimore. At Triple-A Iowa, he was 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts. He walked three and struck out 11 in 9 1/3 innings.
"We just think it's prudent to be proactive with the moment, not to wait," Maddon said. "Too many times, you push and push and push (the five starters), and eventually the rest is absolutely necessary. Prior to being absolutely necessary, it's a hard sell sometimes to the rest of the group. ... You try to just lay out your best plan in advance. I've done it in the past down south (in Tampa), and up here it's no different."
Arrieta said he and the rest of the Cubs rotation could benefit from an extra day's rest on occasion. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks initially was slated to pitch Sunday, but instead will wait an extra day along with right-handers Arrieta, John Lackey and Jason Hammel and left-hander Jon Lester.
"We'll find a way to use that day to get some work done and get better," Arrieta said. "At this time of year, every one of us might need to refine something. That extra day might not be a bad idea."