Matz continues to shine for Cards' rotation

July 26th, 2023

PHOENIX -- wasn’t the most confident pitcher at the beginning of the season. It’s one of the reasons he was moved from the rotation to the bullpen at the end of May.

But in his four starts since rejoining the starting rotation on July 9, the 32-year-old left-hander has found that confidence he needed to be successful. 

It culminated in his deepest outing of the season, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out six under a closed roof at Chase Field in Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the D-backs.

“I think it's important that you want to contribute to the team,” Matz said. “You want to be an asset. So, just to be able to find myself being able to do that is good.”

He’s looking very much like the pitcher the Cardinals invested in with a four-year, $44 million contract in 2022.  Since returning to the rotation, Matz is second in the National League with 25 strikeouts. His opponents' batting average is now .184 since then, which ranks sixth in MLB (minimum 50 at-bats). He also earned his first win in nearly a year in his outing against the Cubs.

“We're seeing the guy who's now pitching with more confidence,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “There's intent behind what he's doing, and he's aggressive. I think his stuff has always played, now it's a matter of having conviction behind it and him believing that it plays. I think we're seeing that come together.”

“I think his focus is way different right now than before,” Willson Contreras said. “I feel like before, he was trying to make the perfect pitch almost every pitch. He was just trying to avoid contact. … Ever since he came back into the rotation, I don't think he's focused on making the perfect pitch. He's focusing on getting ahead. It doesn't matter how.”

Matz’s gem was wasted as the offense couldn’t produce more than just the one run of support they provided on a Brendan Donovan steal of home back in the third inning. The D-backs were able to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth on Corbin Carroll’s pinch-hit, two-run triple. Matz still received praise from the opposition.

"It was a very aggressive fastball,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We knew there were going to be some high arm side misses and we were trying to be patient and get the ball down in the zone and he was working a very good changeup. That to me was the difference maker for him and kept us very defensive and off balance."

Matz focused on getting ahead in the strike zone early in the game, using his fastball and changeup, which proved to be one of his more effective pitches, as 18 of the 26 changeups he threw resulted in strikes, including the final pitch in four of his six strikeouts. 

It was a clean outing for Matz, but he did run into trouble in the third and fourth innings. On both occasions, he allowed two runners on base, with one in scoring position.

Maybe the Matz at the beginning of the season would have folded under pressure, but this was the Matz with much more conviction and confidence. He escaped both innings by striking out the last batter with his changeup.

“The more reps you get, the more comfortable you are,” Matz said. “That was something that Dusty [Blake, pitching coach] recognized and kind of got me back on track. … So sometimes I think I'm just too careful out there instead of just going around for gas and staying with the same approach.

“I find myself trying to be a bit too fine. Ultimately, I was able to make some pitches to get out of it. I think I could use a lot less pitches with that type of mindset that Dusty kind of reminded me before going back out there [for the sixth].”