The Cardinals are keeping left-hander Matthew Liberatore in their rotation, manager Oli Marmol informed the team’s beat this afternoon (relayed by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). St. Louis is officially moving Steven Matz to the bullpen for the time being as the club is returning to a five-man starting staff after briefly using a six-man rotation.
Liberatore has started two of three appearances since being recalled in the middle of May. He’s had middling results, allowing six runs with a 9:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 11 innings. The 23-year-old had pitched very well in Triple-A Memphis earlier in the year. Over eight outings, he had a 3.13 ERA. Liberatore fanned over 30% of batters faced in the minors and induced grounders on exactly half the batted balls he allowed.
In addition to those solid minor league results, the former first round draftee is working with improved raw stuff. He’s averaging 95.2 MPH on his fastball and 77.2 MPH on his curveball this season, each of which is up 2-3 ticks from last year. That hasn’t yet translated to more whiffs at the major league level but he’d gotten swinging strikes on an excellent 14% of his offerings in Triple-A.
Liberatore has impressed the organization enough to stick alongside Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty in the rotation. That’s paired with a second straight down year for Matz, who heads to relief not even halfway through a four-year, $44MM free agent contract.
Matz logged only 48 innings in his first season as a Cardinal. A shoulder impingement and an MCL tear in his left knee combined to keep him to 15 outings. He posted a 5.25 ERA in that stretch thanks largely to an elevated home run rate but posted more encouraging strikeout and walk numbers. Matz had punched out 26.1% of opponents against a 4.8% walk rate. The Cards hoped those peripherals and better health would result in a bounceback 2023 showing.
That hasn’t materialized thus far. Matz’s homer rate has dropped but he hasn’t found better results. He’s posted a 5.72 ERA as a starter with his strikeout rate dropping to 19.4%. Opponents are hitting .324/.384/.505 in 232 plate appearances. The Cards turned to Matz for multi-inning relief for the first time on Monday. He tossed 2 2/3 frames of one-run ball with four punchouts and added an extra mile per hour to his fastball.
Marmol noted the club is hopeful Matz can pitch his way back into the rotation down the line. Injuries and/or struggles from Liberatore could open that door before too long. For now, though, the veteran southpaw will be available out of the bullpen. Matz is making $10MM this season and will collect respective $12MM salaries from 2024-25.