Starter or reliever? C-Mart unfazed by debut

March 5th, 2021

The pitching line in the box score may have been unsightly, but Carlos Martínez remained encouraged after his first outing of the spring.

Martínez was charged with six runs on four hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings, though in actuality, he recorded just two outs in the Cardinals’ 14-0 loss to the Astros on Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was yanked before the end of the first inning, while the second inning was cut short by St. Louis manager Mike Shildt once Martínez reached his pitch count for the night.

“I know the result wasn’t the result I wanted, but I feel good,” Martínez said. “I feel good with all my pitches. I know I can be better in the next couple starts.”

Last year’s COVID-impacted campaign -- one which saw him post a 9.90 ERA while being limited to only five starts -- is now behind Martínez, evidenced by his successful winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic. He’s hoping to emerge from camp as the final member of the rotation along with Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas, and while Thursday’s outing was one to forget, Martínez has been making a positive impression on his manager this spring.

“He's done everything well,” Shildt said before the game when asked about Martínez’s starting status. “The ball’s coming out good. He showed up to camp in great shape, he’s going about the work in a really positive fashion. I can say absolutely he's doing everything he can to make it happen, I can tell you that.”

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Martínez said. “It also helps that I feel very good physically.”

Both of Martínez’s All-Star seasons (2015, ’17) came as a starter, so despite his success in the bullpen in 2019 and his struggles last year, he has made it clear that his intention this spring is to cement himself as one of the Cardinals’ five starters.

“This year, I came to work out, to be in the competition and to win that competition,” Martínez said. “I don’t have the decision to make, but if I keep fighting, if I work at it, I know I can make it.”

Martínez found himself in a jam very quickly Thursday night, serving up a leadoff double by Myles Straw before hitting Jose Altuve with a pitch. The righty hurt his own cause with an errant pickoff throw, moving the runners to second and third with nobody out.

“The throw to second base was a little bit open, but nothing happened in my mind,” Martínez said. “I just keep going, be focused.”

The plan was to attack the strike zone, but Martínez struggled with his execution. Michael Brantley lifted a sacrifice fly to score Straw, then Martínez walked Carlos Correa, putting runners at the corners. Martin Maldonado made him pay, stroking a single up the middle to give Houston a 2-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel drew a walk to load the bases, then Kyle Tucker brought home a third Astros run with a groundout to first base on Martínez’s 23rd pitch. Shildt removed Martínez from the game with just two outs, not wanting to extend him any further in the opening inning.

Austin Warner allowed both inherited runners to score, giving Martínez five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Shildt took advantage of the new rule allowing him to send Martínez back out for the second inning, giving the pitcher another chance to find a groove.

“In the second inning, I tried to be focused, tried to be in the strike zone,” Martínez said. “I wanted to make them swing.”

Martínez got ahead of Altuve, 1-2, to start the second. He thought he had him struck out on the 2-2 pitch, but home plate umpire Angel Hernandez disagreed. Martínez walked Altuve, then gave up an RBI double by Brantley.

Correa followed with a single to center, where Lane Thomas fielded it and fired home, throwing out Brantley for the first out of the inning. With Martínez’s pitch count now at 38, Shildt decided that was enough, calling an end to the inning.

“You can want something really badly; he's clearly into the competition,” Shildt said. “He might have gone a little too hard tonight, first time out, but I like the way the ball was coming out. Carlos is going to be just fine.”

“I need to compete and to continue to be focused in my mind,” Martínez said. “That’s my goal this year; stay focused on the mound, try to believe in myself and throw to my spots.”

Martínez said he feels stronger than he has in a couple years, and given how well he pitched in winter ball, he’s not going to allow Thursday’s outing to affect him going forward.

“My body feels 100 percent,” Martínez said. “I just need to keep going, work on my pitches and be set for the next start. I trust in myself. I have a lot of power; next start, I’m going to be better.”