Tragedy for the cardinals as Steve Matz experiences career ending injury

Steve Matz has been out after experiencing  discomfort.

Due to a lower back ailment, experienced lefty Steven Matz has been out of the lineup for the Cardinals for the whole month. He was supposed to host a bullpen session today, but Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat tweets that it has been postponed owing to his continued pain. Rather, Matz will be given an injection and prohibited from throwing for “at least” the upcoming week. Depending on how he reacts to the most recent therapy, this ban may last longer.

At the end of the month, Matz, 33, will be in his third season of a $44 million, four-year contract that he signed in free agency. After a terrible first season of that deal in 2022, the former Mets and Blue Jays pitcher bounced back to offer the Cards 105 innings of 3.86 ERA ball last season. In comparison to his ’22 levels, he did so with lower strikeout and walk rates, but he also had a strong 44.8% ground ball percentage, which helped to alleviate some of the home run problems he had seen during his first season with St. Louis.

Matz has made six starts in 2024 and has struggled to a dismal 6.18 ERA and a meager 27 1/3 innings pitched. Matz’s strikeout percentage of 13.4% is the seventh lowest of any MLB pitcher who has thrown at least 20 innings this season and would certainly be a career low. His walk percentage of 8.7% is ordinary, but aside from a 30-inning sample from the abbreviated 2020 season, this year’s ground-ball rate of 33.7% is the lowest of his career.

Since Matz is now anticipated to be out even longer, fellow southpaw Matthew Liberatore will have more opportunities going forward. Liberatore is still the favorite to start in Matz’s absence, according to manager Oli Marmol, who told the Cardinals beat that moving Matz into the rotation for the time being “gives us the best chance to win” (X link via Jones). Liberatore hasn’t surpassed 50 pitches in an outing this season and is thus expected to be limited when he takes the mound tonight against the Angels. He was acquired from the Rays in the transaction that sent Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay. His longest appearance of the season has been 3 2/3 innings, but he may potentially go four or five innings if he can work well.

Speaking of Marmol, he’s been under a lot of pressure as the Cardinals have endured an unsettling start that has them back in the bottom of the NL Central after their unexpected 2023 season. When asked how he currently views his manager by KMOX’s Tom Ackerman, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak—who unexpectedly fired former manager Mike Shildt and appointed Marmol as the new skipper—seemed to choose his words carefully. Fans have voiced plenty of criticism for the third-year manager.

“These are challenging times,” Mozeliak remarked. “I continue to believe he comprehends the work. I believe he is a capable manager. I believe he’s making an effort to choose the best players, but eventually you have to produce. I am aware that some supporters are not pleased with me. They don’t think much of Oli. Nothing I say here today, in my opinion, is going to change that, so we’ll just have to keep trying to go back and see if we can make this work. And, as you can see, we are aware that if it doesn’t, then accountability will be taken, and that ultimately begins with me.

Marmol’s first three-year contract to lead the Cardinals was about to expire this season, but in mid-March, the front office extended it until the 2026 campaign. At the time, the deal appeared to be a clear vote of confidence, but less than two months later, Mozeliak is openly stating that his captain “has got to have some level of performance” and discussing responsibility in the front office as well as on the field.

There hasn’t been much improvement with the new rotation. With a combined 4.49 ERA and a 20.5% strikeout rate, Cardinals starters are ranked 22nd and 24th in the major leagues, respectively. Although it is a top-heavy bunch, the bullpen has improved under the direction of closer Ryan Helsley and setup men JoJo Romero, Ryan Fernandez, and Andrew Kittredge. The Cardinals’ relievers are ranked 15th in the major leagues with a flat 4.00 ERA this season due to the problems of those in the pen’s last five places.

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