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Martinez on track for Monday return from DL

Poncedeleon optioned after great debut; Bader recognized with award
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

CINCINNATI -- When a mild oblique strain sidelined Carlos Martinez last weekend in Chicago, the Cardinals were hopeful the righty's disabled list stint would be a short one. That hope inched closer to reality on Tuesday, when Martinez tested the injury in a flat-ground session on the outfield grass at Great American Ball Park.

The next hurdle for Martinez will be a bullpen session scheduled for Friday, and if he completes that without issue, he could return to the Cards rotation on his first day of eligibility, on Monday against the Rockies. Doing so would mean Martinez avoids a rehab start.

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CINCINNATI -- When a mild oblique strain sidelined Carlos Martinez last weekend in Chicago, the Cardinals were hopeful the righty's disabled list stint would be a short one. That hope inched closer to reality on Tuesday, when Martinez tested the injury in a flat-ground session on the outfield grass at Great American Ball Park.

The next hurdle for Martinez will be a bullpen session scheduled for Friday, and if he completes that without issue, he could return to the Cards rotation on his first day of eligibility, on Monday against the Rockies. Doing so would mean Martinez avoids a rehab start.

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Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt called the plan "tentative" on Tuesday.

Video: CIN@STL: Martinez retires Barnhart to escape a jam

Martinez originally tweaked his oblique last Thursday in Chicago, lunging for a batted ball in the fourth inning of a 9-6 loss to the Cubs. The outing was the latest in an uneven year for Martinez, who has struggled to regain his early-season form after missing three weeks to a strained lat. Martinez was 3-2 with a 1.62 ERA before the first injury, but he is 3-4 with a 5.32 ERA in nine starts since.

Austin Gomber was recalled from Triple-A Memphis to fill Martinez's rotation spot Tuesday. He pitched 6 1/3 no-hit innings before giving up two runs in a 4-2 win over the Reds.

Without Martinez available, the Cardinals will start Luke Weaver, Miles Mikolas and John Gant in this weekend's rematch against the Cubs at Busch Stadium.

Poncedeleon optioned after stellar debut
The realities of roster construction took precedence over Daniel Poncedeleon's dazzling Monday night Major League debut, as the Cardinals optioned the right-hander to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday.

The move was "pretty much set" before Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, Shildt said. 

Poncedeleon became the first Cards rookie nearly six decades to take a no-hitter into the seventh in his MLB debut. Poncedeleon completed seven no-hit innings before being removed after 116 pitches in a performance that capped a 14-month recovery from emergency brain surgery and made national headlines. Poncedeleon remained with the team Tuesday to receive treatment and rehash his journey on a mini-national tour, which included a spot on CNN's "New Day" morning program.

The television appearance came after he was informed he'd be heading back to Memphis.

"He was respectful but not blissful," Shildt said. "Ponce is a true pro. That's a tough turnaround. Seven innings of no-hit baseball. 'Nice job, congratulations. And by the way, tomorrow you're going back down to Memphis.'

"Everybody gets that, including Ponce, but that's some tough love right there."

The reality is Poncedeleon is likely to help the Cards again at some point later in the year, perhaps out of the bullpen.

"I think he has the flexibility to do so based on our roster, and the confidence we have in him," Shildt said.

Video: STL@CIN: Poncedeleon hurls 7 no-hit frames in debut

The latter can also be said of Gomber, who emerged as St. Louis' most-trusted left-handed reliever earlier this season. The Cardinals are making "reorganizing" their struggling 'pen a priority headed into the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, a source told MLB.com on Tuesday. That could mean Gomber and Poncedeleon assuming more prominent roles, likely in place of Greg Holland and/or Brett Cecil, who could be moved before the Deadline.

St. Louis' relief corps has allowed 21 runs in six games since the All-Star break, a 2-4 stretch that has pinned the Cardinals at .500 (50-50) through 100 games. They sit in fourth place in the National League Central with a week until the Deadline.

But their short-term priority remains augmenting a rotation without stalwarts Martinez and Michael Wacha. Gomber is technically taking Martinez's spot, and he could earn another start there if Martinez is unable to return when eligible next week.

Bader earns honor
The Major League Baseball Player Alumni Association revealed the 30 preliminary winners of the 2018 Heart and Hustle Award on Tuesday, with one player from each team is chosen based on their passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field. Earning the Cardinals' recognition was right fielder Harrison Bader, who will be honored at an upcoming game at Busch Stadium.

An overall winner will then be selected through a combination of fan, alumni and player voting later in the season. The 2018 winner will be announced on Nov. 8. This remains the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players. The last player to win the overall vote as a member of the Cardinals was Albert Pujols in 2009.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon