'One inning got him': Trouble in 5th bites Liberatore

May 27th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- For four innings on Friday night, Matthew Liberatore stymied the Cleveland Guardians’ offense.

That changed in the fifth, as Liberatore allowed a backbreaking three-run double to Amed Rosario as a part of a four-run inning in the Cardinals’ 4-3 loss at Progressive Field.

“I think Liberatore did a good job,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Overall it was a pretty productive outing, they just clumped all their hits together. … Honestly I think it’s been the Liberatore we've seen in the past, in terms of how he used his stuff. One inning got him.”

After only allowing one hit and two walks through the first four frames, Liberatore’s outing came undone against the bottom of the Guardians’ order. After opening the inning by hitting Andrés Giménez (Cleveland’s No. 7 hitter), Mike Zunino (No. 8) and Myles Straw (No. 9) singled, setting the table for contact savant Steven Kwan to drive in Cleveland’s first run with a base hit between third and short.

Four pitches later, Rosario broke the game open with a three-run double on a slider below the strike zone and in on his hands. Four innings earlier, Liberatore had struck Rosario out on a similar pitch, but this offering was a couple of inches higher.

“I felt good all day,” Liberatore said. “I wasn’t really pleased with how I didn’t get ahead of guys today, but I made the pitches necessary to get back into counts and get outs. I executed the pitch I wanted to Rosario, I’ve just got to tip my cap. He put an unbelievable swing on that pitch."

With Steven Matz’s spot in the rotation up in the air after a shaky start against the Reds, Liberatore could be in line for a longer look in the Cardinals' rotation. Liberatore threw five shutout innings in his first start of the year against the Brewers on May 17 before making a one-inning relief appearance against the Dodgers on May 21, allowing two runs.

With his curveball lacking its usual bite, Liberatore relied more on his fastball (44% usage), sinker (19%) and slider (19%). In his start against the Brewers, Liberatore used his fastball 51% of the time and his curveball 36% of the time.

“I wasn’t landing the curveball early like I would have liked to, but the slider was working tonight, so I went with what was working,” Liberatore said.

That change didn’t diminish the effectiveness of his stuff, as he was able to get two called strikes with each of his four primary pitches, and picked up three whiffs with his fastball and two with his slider.

“[The Guardians] bunched it all up in that fifth inning, but overall he used the sinker and fastball well,” Marmol said. “He didn’t have his curveball, but he did a nice job with his slider.”

The Cardinals’ offense spent most of the night working with men on base, but was never able to get the big hit it needed. After getting runs in the sixth and seventh innings on sacrifice flies from Nolan Arenado and Alec Burleson, the Cardinals had a chance to take the lead when they loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Cleveland reliever Trevor Stephan was able to shut down the rally by getting Nolan Gorman to pop out.

That trend carried over into the final two innings, as the Cardinals had an eighth-inning rally end on a 5-4-3 double play, and a ninth-inning rally end with a borderline strike call to Gorman for the 27th out.

With the Cardinals playing game No. 15 out of 19 straight without a day off, Marmol knows his hitters will need to grind out at-bats if they want to leave Cleveland with a series win.

“Everyone’s feeling these 19 in a row, but there’s no excuse to not go out there and play hard,” he said. “I know we have several games left before we get two days off in a row, but we just need to keep our heads down and keep competing.”