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Matz bounces back in start against Orioles, but is still searching for consistency

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Cardinals hope for series win over Orioles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) delivers during the first inning of a MLB game against the Baltimore Orioles at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Thursday, May 12, 2022. This is the final game of the series against the Orioles. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Throughout his eight seasons in the major leagues, Steven Matz has felt like there has always been one moment that he needs to overcome. One moment — sometimes just one pitch — where he believes a lack of consistency has held him back.

On Thursday, that moment presented itself in the seventh inning in the form of a 2-2 hanging curveball to Orioles catcher Anthony Bemboom that was pulled for a homer to right field in the Cardinals’ 3-2 loss to the Orioles at Busch Stadium.

It marked a bitter ending to what was a bounce-back outing for Matz as he gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings against Baltimore. It was also a reminder to the lefty of what he has gone through since debuting in 2015.

“It’s something that we’ve been really addressing, it’s something that has snagged me my whole career,” Matz said. “It’s really about finding the consistency. Like today, for example, trying to do too much instead of just trusting my stuff like it’s been there the whole game. Instead of trying to throw my best curveball the last pitch of the game. Trusting your stuff is part of it.”

Matz, 30, who in his last outing gave up eight runs in two innings against the Giants, felt like the late homer “overshadowed” his performance in the series finale against Baltimore.

In the eyes of Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, the lefty’s 6 2/3 innings of work served as a sign of what he feels the Cardinals can unlock with Matz.

“I’m excited about Matz,” Marmol said. “And here’s is how I describe that: You have a really good pitcher with a good work ethic, very competitive, but he still has a lot of room for growth and that is an awesome opportunity for us.

“Because he’s relied on his talent, and I do believe there is a lot of room for him to understand what makes him good and how to improve upon what he’s done up to this point, and we’ll do that. We’ll collaborate with him and make sure that we get the most out of him.”

With Andrew Knizner as his battery mate, Matz’s seventh outing as a Cardinal featured a greater use of his changeup, which he relied on for 38% of his 101 pitches compared to his 26.7% average changeup usage this season, according to Statcast. He also utilized a cutter that breaks into right-handed hitters and he feels it’s “a good pitch once it gets going.”

Matz got 14 swings-and-misses on the day — the most in any of his outings as a Cardinal, per Statcast — and did not walk a batter.

He also set season-highs in pitches, innings, and strikeouts with seven that matched the most for a Cardinals pitcher this season.

“I didn’t shake (Knizner) too many times today,” Matz said. “He was just calling some good pitches. We were in good rhythm to be able to throw a lot of off-speed early on.”

That rhythm is something that has been present through the duo’s first four outings together. With Knizner behind the plate for him, Matz has a 1.54 ERA in 23 1/3 innings, and has struck out 23 batters and walked only two.

“(Knizner) puts a lot of time in, and credit to him for doing that and understanding what I’m trying to do,” Matz said.

Through his first six innings, Matz limited Baltimore to one run, which came on a solo homer from shortstop Jorge Mateo with two outs in the second inning.

He escaped trouble in the fourth by stranding runners on first and second with one out after he retired Mateo and rookie third baseman Rylan Bannon on five pitches to end the inning. He entered his seventh inning of work having retired 10 of his last 11 batters before facing Bemboom with two outs.

Matz felt like the burden of a loss against the Orioles in a rubber match was on his shoulders.

“I execute that pitch we win two one and everybody’s going home happy, so it kind of overshadowed the rest of the game for me,” he said.

Marmol saw it as a stepping stone.

“I thought he pitched well,” Marmol said. “The changeup was in play. It was a good pitch for him today. Made a couple mistakes on the solo homers. I thought that was a very positive outing for Matz.”

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