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Cardinals tab Martinez to start on Opening Night

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

JUPITER, Fla. -- Any lingering suspense about who would get to throw the first pitch against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs faded on Wednesday, when manager Mike Matheny pulled Carlos Martinez into his office before the team took the field and delivered a message in Spanish.

Martinez emerged from the room as the team's Opening Night starter.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Any lingering suspense about who would get to throw the first pitch against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs faded on Wednesday, when manager Mike Matheny pulled Carlos Martinez into his office before the team took the field and delivered a message in Spanish.

Martinez emerged from the room as the team's Opening Night starter.

View Full Game Coverage

"I didn't believe it," Martinez later said through a translator. "I thought he was talking about another game. I thought he was talking about an exhibition game in Memphis or Springfield [Mo.]. I felt very happy. Thank God, I'm representing the team like a No. 1."

Video: Outlook: Martinez developing into Cardinals' ace

It will be the first such assignment of Martinez's career, and, at age 25, he'll be the youngest pitcher to draw an Opening Day start for the Cardinals since Joe Magrane in 1989. Martinez will be opposed by Jon Lester in the nationally-televised game against the Cubs at Busch Stadium.

Before informing Martinez of the team's decision, Matheny had a discussion with veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright. Wainwright has started the club's opener each of the past four seasons and five times in total. This time, he'll start the second game.

Wainwright congratulates Martinez on nod

The decision to give the start to Martinez was based on the standout season he had one year earlier.

"There's going to be a lot of excitement that night," Matheny said. "It's going to be a fun game. Our stadium is going to be alive. It always is on Opening Day anyhow, but there's added stuff. [Martinez] maintaining and containing all that excitement and energy is going to be a great challenge, but it's also going to be a great reward for what he's done so far and what we see him doing in the future."

Martinez, who pitched for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, signed a five-year, $51 million contract with the Cardinals in January. He was St. Louis' top starter last season, going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA and 174 strikeouts in a career-high 195 1/3 innings.

Video: Martinez receives five-year contract extension

"Simply, I'm going to try to be focused at my best to give the team a good start," Martinez said. "I'm going to try to remain relaxed mentally. … Perhaps I'll have some nerves, but once I throw the first ball, I know I'll have control of the game."

Martinez looked ready for the assignment on Wednesday, as he twirled five scoreless innings in his first Grapefruit League start -- which the Cardinals won, 6-1, over the Nationals -- since returning from the World Baseball Classic, where he made a pair of starts. That tournament experience accelerated Martinez's preparation this spring and gave him a taste of pitching in the sort of electric environment that awaits him on April 2.

"He's going to be fine," Wainwright said of Martinez. "He's pitched in bigger games than that. He's pitched in playoff games, and World Series games. He's pitched in big games for us. This WBC was actually a good sort of warm-up for that, too. That's good for him to be able to learn how to control his emotions, which he is already very good at."

The Cardinals have not finalized how their other three starters -- Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha -- will line up behind Martinez and Wainwright.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez