ST. LOUIS -- Uncertainty about how Carlos Martínez's body would respond to and recover from a starter’s workload has prompted the Cardinals to put the right-hander on a rehab path that will return him to St. Louis ready to pitch in relief.
The organization came to that decision on Tuesday after Martinez, manager Mike Shildt, the Cardinals’ medical staff and the front office evaluated Martinez’s effort level during a series of bullpen sessions over the last two weeks.
“That’s the trajectory we’re going right now based on how he’s recovering, what he’s doing, what he feels like he’s capable of,” Shildt explained. “It’s just about the amount of intensity and the length of intensity [and] sustaining intensity, which would obviously be required as a starter to throw sides and be able to pitch every fifth or sixth day.
“We’d expect him to be able to come back and go a competent and confident 80 to 100 pitches [if he starts], and we just don’t feel like we’re at that point right now.”
Scaling Martinez back to return as a reliever should allow him to rejoin the Cardinals sooner (perhaps by mid-May), though that wasn’t the impetus behind this decision. Nor were the Cardinals going to let their potential need for rotation help outweigh what they believe offers Martinez the best chance at staying healthy once he returns.
“We’re not going to push a rope or put a square peg in a round hole,” Shildt said. “It doesn’t work. It’s not reasonable. It’s not fair. Ultimately, how he’s built and what he’s doing, he’s not built right now to go with longer throws at higher intensity.”
Dating back to 2018, a year in which Martinez landed on the injured list three separate times, the 27-year-old right-hander has spoken about being “hesitant” to unleash at full intensity because of the potential for another setback. This was less an issue, he said, when pitching in relief late last season.
As for what’s ahead in the short term for Martinez, that remains fluid. He’s likely to throw another two side sessions at Busch Stadium over the next week, after which the Cardinals will evaluate whether he’s ready to head to Florida to face hitters in extended spring training. From there, Martinez will head out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
“Listen, we want Carlos on the club. That’s why we get all the questions, right?” Shildt said. “He’s a clear talent and a multiple-time All-Star. He’s a guy with a well-above-average skill set at this level. We all recognize how much we’d like to have him on the team in whatever capacity we can get him in. But it’s not in front of what’s best for him. We’re not expediating it one way or the other. We’re letting it take its natural course. “
Bader nearing return
Shildt said there is a “high probability” that the club will activate outfielder Harrison Bader from the 10-day IL ahead of Wednesday’s series finale against the Brewers. To open up a roster spot, the club will likely option Daniel Ponce de Leon after his spot start on Tuesday.
Bader, who has been sidelined by a right hamstring strain since April 14, ran the bases and took early batting practice at Busch Stadium as part of his final round of physical tests on Tuesday. He did not report feeling any lingering discomfort during any of the work.
Robinson on the move … again
Utility man Drew Robinson's latest stint with the Major League team lasted only one day, as he was sent back to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday to create roster room for Ponce de Leon’s addition. This marks the third time Robinson has been optioned out since the start of the season.
Before leaving this time, Robinson did tally his first hit of the year. It came in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 13-5 win.
O’Neill went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s game. He is expected to play two additional days with Springfield before returning to St. Louis. The earliest the Cardinals are likely to activate him is on Friday.
As for Gregerson, he’s made a run of seven consecutive scoreless appearances across three different Minor League levels and made his first pair of back-to-back outings for Memphis over the weekend.
Gregerson returned to St. Louis to be evaluated by the medical staff and then left the clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon to begin his drive to Springfield. There, he’ll be used more organically out of the bullpen rather than having his outings scripted in advance.
“It feels tremendously better,” said Gregerson, who can remain on rehab assignment through May 3. “Last year, I would have a hard time bouncing back from an outing no matter how many pitches I threw. And right now it seems to be, knock on wood, cross my fingers, but I haven’t been getting sore. I haven’t had any effects on the front of my shoulder like I was feeling before.”