Martínez healthy, 'blessed' to be playing

September 8th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- 's return to the Cardinals did not go perfectly in their 7-3 loss to the Twins in the first game of Tuesday's seven-inning doubleheader at Busch Stadium, but it was a crucial step forward for a team still dealing with the repercussions of its coronavirus outbreak in late July into August.

And it was a crucial step forward for Martínez, who is fully recovered after contracting COVID-19 and battling acute symptoms. Back on the mound Tuesday, Martínez said he feels "blessed" to be there.

"Right now, I'm 100 percent," Martínez said. "I feel strong, I feel healthy, I feel very good. I got an opportunity to be here again."

In his first start since July 28, Martínez allowed four runs on seven hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts. Three of the runs came on Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson's home run in the third inning. The fourth came when Luis Arraez singled into right field and catcher Willians Astudillo scored from second base.

Martínez looked sharp through two innings, allowing one hit and touching 94-95 mph on his fastball while mixing in his slider and changeup for strikes. That's exactly what the Cardinals hoped and needed to see out of their former All-Star starter.

But the Twins jumped on Martínez in the third with consecutive singles before Donaldson's home run on a slider.

While the Twins extended their lead with Nelson Cruz's home run off reliever Jake Woodford in the fifth and again in the seventh with Miguel Sanó's two-run homer off reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals' offense stayed quiet against right-hander José Berríos until the sixth inning. 's two-run homer was the third of four hits off Berríos, who struck out eight in five-plus innings. scored the Cards' third run on Matt Wisler's wild pitch in the sixth inning.

It has been a long road for Martínez to get not just back in the rotation this year but back on the mound for his second start of the season -- in September, in a playoff chase.

Martínez made his season debut also against the Twins back in late July, four games into the season. After the Cardinals' series at Target Field, Martínez was one of the 10 players and 18 people in the organization to test positive for COVID-19, pausing the club's schedule for more than two weeks.

Martínez's symptoms were severe enough that he said he went to a hospital "three or four times" and that it took him 20-23 days to feel healthy again.

After Martínez recovered, he spent three weeks getting back in shape and rebuilding the arm strength he had built and maintained in the offseason, in spring and throughout summer to become a starter again.

"Yeah, it was a lot of things," Martínez said. "A lot of symptoms. Fever and cough and pain on my body. And pretty dizzy, and sometimes I [couldn't] breathe. That's why I say I feel like God gave me another opportunity."

It couldn't be a better time for Martínez to return, too, with St. Louis' current stretch of games. Including the two doubleheaders this week and three next week, the Cardinals will finish the season playing 25 games in 20 days. Wednesday is their final off-day of the regular season.

Martínez said it was important for him to come back as a starter in part because he thought that's where the Cardinals needed him -- to throw as many innings as he can and save the bullpen. Despite his line Tuesday, he's optimistic that next time out will be better, and lengthier, giving St. Louis another fresh arm as it races toward the playoffs.

"We've got a lot of guys in the bullpen who can throw hard and help the team out," Martínez said. "This year, I gave myself another opportunity to be a starter again, so I feel good, I feel great, strong with my arm. And I'm trying to show my teammates and the manager and everybody here in the clubhouse that I can be a starter and I can be great."