JUPITER, Fla. — The Cardinals’ top two pitching prospects made their spring training debuts on Monday. Zach Thompson’s went well. Matthew Liberatore’s did not.
Thompson needed just nine pitches to zip through his inning of work, retiring all three batters he faced in the sixth inning. Liberatore followed him to the mound and threw 30 pitches, only 14 for strikes, as he retired only two of the eight hitters he faced.
The 20-year-old Liberatore, acquired from Tampa over the winter, allowed three hits and three walks, threw a wild pitch and was called for a balk as he was charged with five runs.
It wasn’t the debut he had wanted, but he was able to look at it from a veteran’s perspective.
“I think I was just trying to create a little too much instead of just trusting my stuff and letting it happen,” Liberatore said. “I didn’t perform like I wished I had but at the end of the day I walk away a better baseball player for it.
“My stuff was actually really good despite not being to command it. Stuff wise it felt like it was there. I’m not unhappy with the outcome. Sometimes failure is the best way to learn. That’s one of the few times I’ve run into a lot of trouble and I think going through that is a good thing for me. I got humbled real quick.
“If you had to give me the option of having a game like that today or cruising through all of spring training and then having that happen in the regular season I would choose to have it happen today because I can make the adjustments I need going into the season. I’m going to try to take away what I can learn from the experience and flush the rest.”
Manager Mike Shildt said what was important was what Liberatore took out of the game, and how he used it to make progress moving forward.
“It’s a good experience quite honestly,” Shildt said. “A good opportunity for him. … Try not to make too big a deal out of it. It was an experience for a young man who is 20 years old.”
Thompson, the Cardinals’ top pick in last year’s amateur draft out of Kentucky, got his three outs on two fly balls and a line drive.
“It’s good to get that out of the way,” Thompson said. “I had good defense behind me. You get the adrenalin going, but then you go out and let the instincts take over and go out and compete.
“I didn’t make great pitches but I was ahead in most of the counts.”
Andrew Knizner caught both innings and said despite the difference in the results, there still was a lot to like and be excited about with both Thompson and Liberatore.
“Two different innings, it’s hard to judge a lot on one inning, especially the first one,” Knizner said. “Obviously both guys have really good stuff. You look at the stuff and it’s elite. They both have bright futures.”
The two starters will both likely begin the regular season at Class A Palm Beach.
Here is how Monday’s game broke down:
High: The first four Cardinals pitchers actually held the Marlins hitless through the first six innings.
Low: The five runs in the seventh inning were one more than the Cardinals had allowed combined in their first 24 innings this spring.
At the plate: John Nogowski, getting a chance to play first base as Paul Goldschmidt DHs in the early games, had two hits and two RBIs … Rangel Ravelo, fighting for a spot on the roster, played left field and also had two hits and an RBI … Yadier Molina got his first hit of the spring while Dexter Fowler and Goldschmidt remained hitless in their first two games.
On the mound: John Gant and Ryan Helsley each worked two innings, with the Marlins scoring one unearned run off Gant thanks to two errors, one of which was his wild pickoff throw to second base … Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley joined Thompson with scoreless innings. Whitley pitched around a hit by getting three strikeouts.
Off the field: Shildt said he will continue to move Brad Miller and Tommy Edman around the field, starting them at multiple positions. Yairo Munoz already has played both the infield and outfield as well … Miles Mikolas is recovering from his second PRP injection which has limited his baseball activities and will leave him on the injured list when the regular season begins.
Up next: The Cardinals will host the Washington Nationals on Tuesday in Jupiter. Austin Gomber is scheduled to start and be followed on the mound by Alex Reyes. Both are expected to pitch two innings … For the split-squad games on Wednesday, Kwang Hyun Kim and Genesis Cabrera will be the starters.
Final Score: Marlins 6, Cardinals 3
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains