ARLINGTON, Texas — So far, the demotion to the bullpen has gone as well as could be expected for Cardinals left-hander Steven Matz as he continues to adjust to pitching in a relief role while also working towards the consistency that eluded him as a starter early this season.
“It’s going good,” Matz said. “I’m just figuring out a routine a little bit still, but ultimately, it’s about making good pitches in big spots, making good pitches and getting ahead of guys, attacking guys. That’s been my focus.”
The left-hander said he’s also been working on holding base runners better than he did earlier in the season.
Matz began the season in the starting rotation and made 10 starts, but he went 0-6 with a 5.72 ERA as a starter this season. Opponents batted .324 against him and slugged .505 with 22 extra-base hits in those 10 games (50 1/3 innings). He also posted a WHIP of 1.75.
Matz has made three relief appearances since ceding his rotation spot to rookie Matthew Liberatore. Two of the outings have lasted more than an inning, including his latest appearance Tuesday night against the Rangers.
Matz replaced Drew VerHagen with a man on in the sixth inning in Texas, and he pitched into the seventh inning. He recorded the first out of that frame. He retired each of the four batters he faced.
In his three relief appearances, he has pitched a total of five innings and allowed one run on four hits. He hasn’t walked a batter during that stretch and has struck out five.
As a starter, Matz struggled to find a consistent feel for his off-speed pitches at times earlier in the season. At one point, he’d shied away from throwing his curveball for extended stretches.
While he must prepare to be available out of the bullpen on a regular basis, he has still been working daily before games to regain a feel for his off-speed offerings.
“There’s a balance to it,” Matz said. “I’m still figuring it out. I’ve been kind of going off the mound, doing some light work every day.”
The work he does daily off the mound is at a low intensity, touch-and-feel sessions, with the intention of allowing him to remain sharp without taxing his arm.
Those sessions have basically replaced the flat-ground sessions of playing catch.
“I do feel like I’m in a better spot,” Matz said. “I’ve feel comfortable out there, especially yesterday with my changeup and my off-speed. That’s been an issue for me. So to go out there yesterday and get two outs out of my changeup and one on my curveball, that was big.”
Pitching in a relief role has also forced Matz to attack with multiple pitches right away. The short stints and tight situations don’t afford him the luxury of finding out what’s working.
“I think that’s a good mindset to have,” Matz said. “Instead of trying to feel out what you have that day, trust that your stuff is going to be there and adjust from there.”
Contreras committing catcher-on-catcher crime
With his steal of third base Monday night, Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras has already tied his single-season high for stolen bases with five. He also stole five bases in 2017 (117 games) and 2021 (128 games) for the Chicago Cubs.
In just 57 games this season, he’s already in position to set a new career high.
Monday, Contreras’ steal helped lead to the team’s first run. He reached on a two-base error then stole third base and scored on an RBI single by Paul DeJong to break the team’s 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position.
During his years with the Cubs, Contreras had stolen 22 bases in 39 attempts (56% success rate). So far this season, his five steals have come on six attempts (83% success rate). This is also the first season of the new rules limiting pick-off attempts and with the bigger bases.
“I think the coaches here, they do a really good job on getting some kind of move or detail from the pitchers, and they do a really good job communicating,” Contreras said. “The biggest thing for me is they trust anyone here that they can steal bases. So when you have a whole coaching staff behind you that trusts you to run and steal bases, that makes you feel good. That makes you feel 100% about doing those things. I think this year, I’ve taken advantage of it.”
Carlson continues to get closer
Center fielder Dylan Carlson’s minor-league rehab assignment continued with the Triple-A Memphis affiliate on Wednesday night. He was set to serve as the designated hitter the day after he started in the outfield.
On Tuesday, Carlson played five innings, went 1-for-1 with a run and also recorded an outfield assist in his first game action since he suffered a sprained left ankle on May 14. … Right-hander Jake Woodford is expected to pitch for Triple-A Memphis again on Thursday as he continues his rehab stint. He’s slated to throw 50-55 pitches in that outing, which will be his third appearance. Woodford has been on the injured list since May 5 due to shoulder inflammation. … The Cardinals will host the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium after a scheduled day off Thursday. The scheduled starting pitching matchups for the weekend series are Cardinals left-hander Jordan Montgomery vs. Reds right-hander Ben Lively on Friday night, Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas vs. Reds left-hander Andrew Abbott on Saturday afternoon, and Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright vs. Reds right-hander Hunter Greene on Sunday afternoon.
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