The Cardinals have reinvented Matthew Liberatore

Matthew Liberatore could be on the verge of a breakout thanks to a St. Louis Cardinals pitching development system that's finally getting with the times.
St. Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins
St. Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be toast for the second game of the doubleheader on June 26 against the Atlanta Braves. Kyle Gibson was rusty after not having pitched since June 14, and he labored through a four-inning start in Game 1, where he walked five and surrendered four runs. For Game 2, the Cardinals trotted out Matthew Liberatore, who owned an unwieldy 7.61 ERA as a starting pitcher in 2024. Everything pointed to the bullpen being gassed by the end of the game.

Instead, Liberatore spun a gem, pitching six shutout innings while giving up only two hits and striking out eight. Of particular note was his slider, which drew 10 whiffs on 17 swings.

That slider has become Liberatore's bread and butter. After throwing it 135 times in all of 2023, he has used it 188 times this season, to exceptional results. Batters are hitting .094 against the pitch, and it has a 45.3% whiff rate.

As Liberatore ascended through the minor leagues, the focus was on his curveball. In 2023, he threw it 237 times. Now, in 2024, he's drastically cut down its use, throwing it only 50 times to this point. During a period of massive change within the Cardinals organization regarding its outdated pitching philosophy, the team's coaches might have successfully used a modern approach to nudge Liberatore's career back on track.

It's too early to make a declaration that he's fixed; after all, his start against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 10, 2023, saw him go eight innings and allow only two hits and no runs. But while he relied mostly on his four-seam fastball and sinker in that game, which he hadn't shown much feel for before or after that, Liberatore's slider has been a money pitch for most of 2024, providing hope that this breakthrough is for real.

The coaching staff deserves credit for Liberatore's new identity, but some of the recognition needs to go to Liberatore himself. He was clearly receptive to what the coaches were telling him to do, and he successfully executed the plan. After facing pitching failure for likely the first time in his life, Liberatore put his faith in the coaching staff and was rewarded for it.

In the postgame interview after his latest start, Liberatore said he considers himself a starter at heart, and the Cardinals will need to decide if he's more valuable as a high-leverage arm out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season, especially given the recent struggles of JoJo Romero, or if he deserves another start. Regardless of the team's decision, he has put himself on the radar for a rotation spot in 2025.

Liberatore and the Cardinals look to have forged a new path for his career, and for that, they deserve kudos.