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Cardinals rookie Matthew Liberatore thrust into London limelight, seeking split vs. Cubs

First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. London time and 9:10 a.m. St. Louis time from London Stadium in the United Kingdom.

LONDON — His plan was to be in the bullpen, ready and available should the Cardinals need him at any point in the London Series against the Chicago Cubs.

The call came – but not for Matthew Liberatore expected.

The Cardinals rookie will remain on turn and also make a start he did not expect Sunday. Thrust into an opening created by Jack Flaherty’s hip tightness, Liberatore will start the final game of the Cardinals two-game visit to the United Kingdom. All that’s at stake the after taste of a road trip that started so sweet.

The Cardinals won four of the first five games on this three-city, two-country, eight-game, 10-day trip. A 9-1 loss to the Cubs on Saturday puts them in a spot, at best, to split the series in London – but head back to St. Louis having gone 5-3 on the trip. The Cardinals engineered their rotation to get Adam Wainwright and Flaherty the starts in London, and neither has gone as planned. Wainwright did not finish the fourth inning and allowed seven runs on 11 hits. Flaherty won’t leave the dugout, and the Cardinals are not yet certain when he’ll be able to return to the rotation.

Their hope is during the upcoming homestand.

So, it’s a fire drill for Liberatore.

The start is on his regular day, and he did throw a between-start bullpen session just in case he would be needed – and unsure when that would be. He played a little catch and did some light work Friday and Saturday. That evening, as the Cubs took over the first game of the London Series, Liberatore watched from a place he did not expect: the dugout. He would not be hanging in the bullpen. He would be needed on the mound.

“You watch the hitters. The turf is bouncy. Nothing they don’t have to compete with, too,” Liberatore said. “I think its great to pitch in London.”


Cardinals (31-45, 5th in NL Central, 9.5 GB)

1. Brendan Donovan, LF

2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

3. Lars Nootbaar, RF

4. Nolan Arenado, 3B

5. Willson Contreras, C

6. Nolan Gorman, 2B

7. Jordan Walker, DH

8. Paul DeJong, SS

9. Tommy Edman, CF

P: Matthew Liberatore, LHP

Cubs (37-38, 3rd in NL Central, 3.0 GB)

1. Nico Hoerner, 2B

2. Seiya Suzuki, RF

3. Christopher Morel, CF

4. Dansby Swanson, SS

5. Ian Happ, LF

6. Trey Mancini, 1B

7. Miguel Amaya, DH

8. Nick Madrigal, 3B

P: Marcus Stroman, RHP

Pitching matchup

LHP Matthew Liberatore (1-2, 6.12 ERA): Rookie will be making his sixth start of the season. He will be making his second career start against the Chicago Cubs, the other coming at Wrigley Field. Earlier on the road trip, Liberatore allowed five runs on four hits and two walks in four innings to the New York Mets. He did not factor in the decision. He did receive seven runs of support – and that’s the most of any start this season. All three of his career wins have come against opponents in the NL Central. Of his 13 career starts, 10 have been on the road. He is 0-4 with an 8.41 ERA away from Busch Stadium.

RHP Marcus Stroman (9-4, 2.28 ERA): Is only a few weeks removed from being the NL Player of the Week as he went 15 innings and struck out 14 during a two-start week. That included a complete-game shutout against the Tampa Bay Rays. He has allowed two or fewer runs in his past seven starts, and since May 19 he has the lowest ERA in the majors at 1.29. He has 14 quality starts this season – and that not only leads the majors, but it’s a large reason why the Cubs have been able to stay buoyant in the National League Central. He has a career-best streak of seven consecutive wins coming into the London game.

Number to know

0 – Still the number of stolen bases the London crowd has seen in a Major League Baseball game. Though, the nearly 55,000 on Saturday did get the thrill of defensive indifference.

More to read

‘We’re not looking to blow up this team,’ says Mozeliak as trade deadline nears: Cardinals Extra

London letdown: Adam Wainwright’s ‘perfect storm of horribleness’ trips Cardinals vs. Cubs

Injury report

RHP Jack Flaherty (right hip tightness): Right-hander was scratched from his planned start Sunday in London and when he’ll return to the rotation is not clear and the team has not yet decided if a stay on the injured list will be warranted. The soreness in his hip limits Flaherty’s ability to drive off the pitching rubber. It is the same tightness that he felt during spring training and had one start pushed back. (Updated June 24)

RHP Jordan Hicks (head cold): Unavailable Saturday and likely not at the ballpark as he recovered from an illness spreading through the Cardinals’ traveling party. Hicks is expected to return to the bullpen and be available Sunday morning in the London Series finale. He is a game-time decision after playing catch Sunday morning at London Stadium. (Updated June 25)

2B/DH Nolan Gorman (head cold-like symptoms): The Cardinals’ slugger did not participate in batting practice and workouts Friday at London Stadium due to head cold-like symptoms. He is expected to be available for the weekend series. (Updated June 24)

LHP Packy Naughton (forearm strain): Naughton will have season-ending surgery on June 26 to repair the flexor tendon in his forearm. The surgery has not yet happened as the team plays in London, and the extent of the surgery and the prescribed repair could change once doctors see firsthand the damage in his left arm. Naughton made four appearances in relief this season before he landed on the IL in early April. (Updated June 24)

RHP Ryan Helsley (forearm strain): The Cardinals’ closer felt discomfort in his right forearm Sunday while playing catch, and the concern prompted the Cardinals to put him on the injured list and prescribe several days without throwing. The move to the 15-day IL is backdated to June 10. (Updated June 12)

OF Tyler O’Neill (lower back strain): The Cardinals moved O’Neill to the 60-day IL on June 16. The move to the 60-day IL does not alter his timetable for a return, and back in St. Louis continues to do baseball activities that included a steady increase in the intensity and type of batting practice he’s taking. (Updated June 24)

What’s next

The Cardinals return to St. Louis to start a home stand that showcases two of the top teams in the American League – Houston and the New York Yankees. After an off day Monday, the Cardinals face the Astros on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

Check back in to this afternoon and evening for coverage of the game.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

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