Matz, a newcomer in St. Louis after signing a $44 million free-agent deal with the Cardinals in the offseason, is the type of pitcher who likes to work at a brisk pace, and he rarely dawdles between batters. His preference is to get the ball, get the sign and get to work.
So when he retired the first two batters of the game before surrendering a line-drive single to Andrew Benintendi, Matz was puzzled when Knizner went to the mound.
“Matz is pretty low-key, and I think he said, ‘What’s wrong?’” Knizner recalled with a laugh on Monday afternoon following the Cardinals’ 1-0 win over the Royals in a makeup game at Busch Stadium. “I said to him, ‘Nothing’s wrong, but I just wanted to give you a break here. You threw 25 pitches just like that, so I want to give you a break.’ It worked out pretty good. I was just slowing it down. It’s about knowing when to go quick and when to slow it down; that’s the art of catching.”
There was certainly a method to Knizner’s madness. And, as it turns out, it proved to be a stroke of genius to help a pitcher who’d entered the day with two strong outings this season and two shaky ones. Matz needed 12 pitches to strike out leadoff hitter Edward Olivares and another eight to retire Whit Merrifield before Benintendi muscled a single to left-center on the fourth pitch he saw. With slugger Salvador Perez stepping to the plate, Knizner wanted his pitcher rested and ready for what potentially could have been a big moment in the game four batters in.
“I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, and it was a pretty good move there,” said Matz, who got Perez to pop out to center to end the first inning. “Definitely, after those two long first hitters, it was nice to get a little breather. Yeah, that was pretty cool for him to do that.”
As it turns out, Matz’s first inning was one of his few difficult stretches on the day. The left-hander regularly hit 95 mph on the radar gun, and he spotted his curveball and changeup well throughout a day when he scattered four hits over six scoreless innings and outdueled Kansas City ace Zack Greinke.
St. Louis got a first-inning home run from first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and Matz and three relievers made it stand up for the Cardinals’ second win in less than 24 hours.
The game was a makeup of an April 13 rainout, and the start time was moved up three hours because of the severe weather expected to hit St. Louis later Monday afternoon. Matz proved to be the perfect pitcher for a game in which the two teams were looking to beat the weather. Of his 94 pitches, 65 were strikes. He didn’t walk a hitter, struck out four and allowed just four to reach on hits in the two-hour, 40-minute game.
“Obviously, he works fast, throws strikes and gets hitters to put balls in play, so he did a great job for us when we needed it,” said Goldschmidt, who hit his second first-inning home run in four days.
Goldschmidt’s homer came a day after he was given a game off by manager Oliver Marmol. Whereas early in his career he would have railed against getting a game off, Goldschmidt said he’s learned to embrace the benefits of taking time off during the marathon-like 162-game season.
“It’s nice to relax and then come in fresh today,” he said. “We’re in the middle of 20 [games] in a row and 30 out of 31, I believe, so it was a great time for [the day off]. Off-days are important. As a competitor you’ve got to keep going, and you can’t think that you need an off-day. But when you take a step off, [they’re] beneficial.”
Matz certainly didn’t have an off-day this time around at Busch Stadium. One of the newest Cardinals began the day 2-0 with an 0.84 ERA in two road starts, but 0-1 with a 14.14 ERA in two outings in front of Cardinals fans. On Monday he did something about reversing that trend with a speedy and efficient performance at home.
“I like to work fast and get in a rhythm,” said Matz, who improved to 3-1 with a 4.56 ERA. “It was huge for me to get that first win at Busch Stadium. That’s a great feeling.”