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Washburn struggles in Tigers debut

Washburn struggles in Tigers debut

DETROIT -- Jarrod Washburn admitted earlier this week that he felt like a rookie as he was set to take the mound Tuesday against the Orioles in his Tigers debut. It turns out the only true rookie who did take the Comerica Park mound was the one who picked up the victory.

Brian Matusz wiggled his way out of multiple jams in his first Major League start and multi-RBI games from Nick Markakis and Cesar Izturis powered Baltimore to an 8-2 victory over Detroit.

Washburn (8-7) kept the Tigers in the game for awhile. Yet on the day that he was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for July, the veteran's performance was rather pedestrian.

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Detroit can only hope and assume that better days are ahead for its newest starting pitcher.

"There's no excuse. I didn't do my job. I didn't have command," Washburn said. "I wanted to start out on the right foot and give everyone a good first impression. But what happened was the exact opposite of that."

Washburn expects significant improvement on Sunday when he is scheduled to start against the Twins at home. But on Tuesday he was outdueled by Matusz, who may not have been overpowering but was impressive nevertheless.

Matusz came into his first Major League start with a good deal of fanfare as the fourth overall pick in 2008's First-Year Player Draft. Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday afternoon that he was "looking forward to seeing [Matusz] pitch, but then again not looking forward to it" because of how talented the lefty was reputed to be.

On this night Matusz (1-0) was great when he needed it. He stranded eight runners in just five innings, allowing six hits. He struck out the last two batters he faced in Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn with runners on second and third, throwing 99 pitches to earn the win.

"I was impressed with [Matusz]," Leyland said. "He has good stuff and really good pitchability for a young guy. He was [willing to throw changeups while behind in a count. He's a four-pitch guy and is impressive."

Meanwhile, Washburn was also occasionally finding his way into trouble, but didn't have as much success as his counterpart in pulling a Houdini act. Baltimore scratched out a couple of early runs on an RBI single by Markakis in the first and an RBI single by Matt Wieters in the second.

While both of those rallies were snuffed out by double plays, Washburn only stranded one runner. He allowed Izturis' second home run of the season with two outs in the fifth inning. Then his night was essentially over in the sixth when Washburn yielded a 442-foot blast to Markakis that slammed into the brick wall above the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center. Markakis and Izturis each finished with three RBIs.

By the time the damage was done in the sixth, the Orioles had sent nine batters to the plate while increasing their lead to six. The Baltimore bullpen took care of the rest.

Washburn didn't feel having an extra couple of days off from his normal schedule affected him. He last pitched on July 28 for Seattle against Toronto. "I had some adrenaline going but it didn't affect the movement on any pitches," Washburn said. "My sinker was sinking but my location was way off. Markakis hit a four-seamer [fastball] that was in a terrible location."

Detroit catcher Gerald Laird said Washburn didn't have his best command and kept a couple of pitches up that were hit hard. But he is confident that one of Washburn's worst starts is behind him.

"I got really familiar with him and how he pitches really quickly," Laird said. He's easy to catch and comes at you with strikes. The biggest challenge [in catching a new pitcher for the first time] is seeing what the ball does when he misses his spots and how each pitch moves in certain situations."

The Tigers had their chances early. They loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning for Adam Everett. The shortstop drilled a Matusz pitch up the middle for what appeared to be a multiple run-scoring single until Izturis dove to his left, snagged the hard grounder and flipped with his right hand to Brian Roberts, just beating the sliding Raburn.

Everett drove home Detroit's first run with a fourth-inning double, scoring Brandon Inge. Magglio Ordonez added an RBI single in the ninth.

Like Laird, Leyland isn't worried about Washburn's ability to provide the Tigers with wins during an AL Central race.

"He was not sharp tonight but he'll be fine Sunday," Leyland said. "We have other things that are more of a concern to us right now than [Washburn]."

Mike Scott is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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