CINCINNATI — The zero suctioned to Steven Matz’s name like a barnacle in every box score and stat sheet for more than 50 games now looms there as a reminder that, for almost 11 months now, he’s gone without a win as a starting pitcher for the Cardinals.

Not that a specific statistic hangs any heavier than others on the lefty.

“You could look at the numbers and all of it could weigh on me,” said Matz (0-6). “I’m not pitching well. I wish I was pitching better. I wish I was 6-0. But there is nothing I can do to change the past. I’ve got to focus on whether I can get better and kind of right the ship.”

At the same ballpark where he got his last win as a starter — back in July 2022 — and sustained the knee injury that made him a reliever the rest of the season, Matz allowed a season-high 11 hits. He continued a season-long struggle to provide the Cardinals innings. He threw only four in the Cardinals’ 10-3 loss to host Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park, and it’s abbreviated starts like his that continue to put the Cardinals in a bullpen bind.

The problem may yet be part of the solution.

Rookie lefty Matthew Liberatore will start Friday night in Cleveland after a few days of availability out of the bullpen. The Cardinals had told the young prospect he would get a start at some point during the weekend against the Guardians, but the brevity of Matz’s start left some uncertainty for when. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol and coaches, including pitching coach Dusty Blake, met late Wednesday night at GABP to audit their bullpen for who would be available in the coming days to cover innings if needed.

What’s created the pinch is 19 games in 19 days and a rotation that has yet to crank out a run of quality starts. Those unmanned innings add up in the same place: relief.

“It’s tough and you start to wear some guys out, and the reality is if you think about where we were when we started this 19-game stretch to where we are today, we’ve gained some ground, a good amount of it,” said Marmol, whose club is 12-5 in its previous 17 games. “But it’s putting our A-lineup out there every day. Guys are worn down. It’s a lot of games. We still have several to go. So we’ve got to dig deep and find a way.”

Where Matz fits into that way will be part of the conversation.

“We’ll sit down and talk through it,” Marmol replied.

In the second year of a four-year, $44 million contract, Matz established momentum in his recent starts. He allowed three or fewer runs in three consecutive starts and trimmed his ERA from 6.39 to 5.05. He pitched into the sixth inning twice. But he’s yet to finish the sixth inning once this season. And there were moments, even in recent starts, when his pitch count would bloat with ineffective and wayward pitches. Some had been described as “noncompetitive.”

Matz did not have that issue Wednesday as he filled the strike zone, particularly in areas where pitches don’t have to be hit hard to be hits.

“That is probably the most strikes he’s thrown with all of his pitches,” Marmol said. “And they got hit. Not the outing that obviously we wanted or we needed.”

Said Matz: “There were a lot of pitches out over the plate, looking back at it. I wasn’t attacking guys inside, making them uncomfortable and so I just gave them chances. There was a lot of weak contact, but it was giving them a chance. Balls up in the zone, where they could fight them off and get some of those base hits is what they’re doing to me. Then I got in some bad counts and left some pitches fat.

“Just gave them a chance to put the ball in play,” the lefty concluded. “And that’s what they did.”

Matz walked the leadoff batter in the first inning and the Reds laced him for four runs. He limited the third inning to one run despite allowing three hits, and the Reds got a solo homer in the fourth. The ball bounced out of right fielder Oscar Mercado’s glove and into the seats for the sixth and final run allowed by Matz. There was some sense that he may have been tipping his pitches to the Reds. It’s also possible that he was telegraphing the location of pitches — unable to wedge his fastball inside on batters, they could count on it being over the plate or out of the zone. When his changeup faded wide, they could reach it or ignore it.

Every swing at a changeup out of the zone made contact.

Matz did get 10 swings and misses — and 20 balls in play on 90 pitches.

He pitched as if overcorrecting, looking to pull pitches to the edge of the zone but instead tunneling them through the meat of it.

“My bread and butter is throwing inside and changeups down,” Matz said. “My changeup has been up. I’ve been showing fastballs away a lot. Stuff I’ve got to look at and address and see where I’m getting hurt. ... It might be more of a mindset thing more than anything. Feel myself thinking sometimes, ‘Don’t throw a ball with this changeup,’ instead of just executing it. They look good in the bullpen and everything. I just have to have better execution, better mindset with it.”

Clearly frustrated by the changing ways he’s getting the same results, Matz said there was nothing he could do now to improve the numbers from his first 10 starts. He can’t change the past. But his search for corrections does begin there.

He said he would review Wednesday’s four innings for hints of why the changeup is misbehaving or what he was doing that gravitated his pitches toward the middle of the strike zone and high up in it. He and the coaches will scour for any clues that he’s tipping pitches. And he’ll have at least an extra day to do all of that.

Liberatore’s second cameo in the rotation is likely to push Matz’s next start to Tuesday at home against Kansas City, at the earliest. The Cardinals have consecutive off days following that game — a welcome and unusual reset after the 19 games in 19 days. It’s in the more distant past where Matz could find a reason to be in the bullpen besides throwing one between starts. Matz’s last win came as a reliever against the Reds, and that was in his first game back from a knee injury. He pitched well in relief for the Cardinals, saw an uptick in velocity and streamlined his use of pitches. Short bursts, direct mindset, steady results.

As the Cardinals review their pitching staff for innings and reintroduce Liberatore to a starting role Friday, Matz could go into next week’s two-day break without a start. That would not mean he’d be without a role. It could come up how one of the pitchers leaving innings untended could help tidy any up over the weekend.

“Took a step back,” Matz said of his outing Wednesday.

To where is the next question to answer.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

Originally published on, part of the BLOX Digital Content Exchange.