Matz can't replicate his previous performance at GABP

May 25th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- At long last, fate seemed to bring Cardinals left-hander Steven Matz to a moment on Wednesday where he might finally garner the win he’s needed for months. After all, Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park was the site of his last victory as a starter, and he came into the game 4-0 in his career in five outings (four starts) against the rebuilding Reds.

However, not even those built-in advantages could aid Matz, who was battered throughout his four innings in an unsightly 10-3 loss to Cincinnati. Now, with the veteran sitting at 0-6 and in possession of a 5.72 ERA over 10 outings, even Matz must wonder how many more starting opportunities he will get for a Cardinals squad desperate for some sustained length out of its starting staff.

“You could look at the numbers, and all of it weighs on me,” Matz said after his eighth start over the past two seasons where he has allowed four or more earned runs. “I’m not pitching well, I want to be pitching better and I wish I was 6-0. But, there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Ultimately, I’ve got to focus on where I can get better and right this ship. But the numbers are what they are, and I can’t go back and change that.”

Left-hander Matthew Liberatore, the No. 4-ranked prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline, went 4-1 with Triple-A Memphis to earn an MLB promotion. The 6-foot-4 Liberatore, who packed on 20 pounds of muscle and bulk in the offseason, flashed an improved fastball and defeated the rival Brewers in his first start of the season. He will get a second start this weekend in Cleveland, manager Oliver Marmol said after Wednesday’s loss.

When Matz’s next turn in the rotation rolls around on Tuesday, the Cardinals will be playing their 19th game in 19 days. Following two off-days -- a true rarity in MLB’s marathon-like regular season -- the team will most likely revert to a five-man rotation, meaning there will likely only be one rotation spot for Matz or Liberatore.

“It’s tough because we’re starting to wear some guys out, and the reality is, if you think about where we were when we started this 19-game stretch and where we are now, we’ve gained a good amount of ground, but it’s been because we’re putting our ‘A’ lineup out there every day, and guys are worn down,” Marmol said. “It’s a lot of games, and we still have several to go. We have to dig deep and find ways to give guys some days off. From a starting rotation standpoint, obviously we wanted more innings today in order to not tax the bullpen.”

Little went right from the start on Wednesday for Matz, who walked leadoff hitter Jonathan India and allowed four of the next six to reach on mostly hard-hit balls. He trailed 4-0 after the first inning, 5-0 after three, and in the fourth, a deep fly ball bounced off Óscar Mercado’s glove for a home run. When he left after four innings, Matz had surrendered six earned runs on 11 hits and two walks.

His assessment on a night he threw 15 of 24 first-pitch strikes and used his sinker for 45 of his 90 pitches: He never made the Reds feel uncomfortable by daring to pitch inside.

“There were a lot of pitches out over the plate, and looking back, I wasn’t attacking guys inside,” he said. “I was giving them chances with too many pitches up in the zone.”

The Cardinals signed Matz to a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract in the fall of 2021 to try and bring some left-handed balance to their righty-dominant pitching staff. His first outing of 2022 went poorly, as he allowed seven earned runs to the Pirates, but he was 3-1 following the first five starts of his Cardinals career. He didn’t win over his next four starts and left with a shoulder injury that cost him eight weeks.

In his long-awaited return last July 23, Matz struck out seven Reds over 5 1/3 innings to earn the win. Even that victory came at a cost as he had a torn MCL in his left knee while fielding a slow roller up the first-base line. That injury cost him another six-plus weeks, and he hasn’t won as a starter since that night in Cincinnati.

He looked to have turned a poor start to this season (0-4, 6.39 ERA in his first six starts) around with an improved three-start stretch (2.35 ERA), but Wednesday proved to be another forgettable night when the stars were seemingly aligned for him.

“I took a step back today,” said Matz, who suffered his first career loss to the Reds. “There are some things I can look back on and address.”