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Cards' Martinez named Opening Day starter

Hurler taking steps to elevate to true ace form, excited to prove himself in 2018
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- There won't be any grand announcement, because Mike Matheny considers his choice for Opening Day starter something of a given. Of course it'll be Carlos Martinez on the mound when St. Louis opens the regular season in New York against the Mets on March 29. Who else?

"And there is no reason he shouldn't walk in here, and expect that to be the case," Matheny said.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- There won't be any grand announcement, because Mike Matheny considers his choice for Opening Day starter something of a given. Of course it'll be Carlos Martinez on the mound when St. Louis opens the regular season in New York against the Mets on March 29. Who else?

"And there is no reason he shouldn't walk in here, and expect that to be the case," Matheny said.

View Full Game Coverage

In the past, Matheny has waited until deeper in Spring Training to reveal his Opening Day starter. At least part of the manager revealing the news this early may be attributed to an effort to quell questions about the right-hander's availability, after he briefly left camp earlier this spring to address a personal issue. But it also speaks to how highly the Cardinals feel about Martinez, and how large a step forward they feel he's about to take.

Few aces are as undisputed as Martinez, who set career highs in starts, complete games, innings and strikeouts last season, when he made his second National League All-Star team. It will be his second consecutive Opening Day start.

Martinez dazzled during the assignment last season, when he shut out the Cubs over seven innings at Busch Stadium, striking out 10 along the way. Martinez left with the lead in a game St. Louis eventually won on a Randal Grichuk walk-off single.

Hello, old buddy Brett
Brett Cecil became the final Cardinals pitcher in camp to debut when he pitched the fifth inning of St. Louis' 7-3 loss to the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Saturday. The 31-year old lefty has been on a delayed schedule since reporting to camp a week late due to personal reasons. He allowed a solo home run to Starlin Castro, and recorded a strikeout in his lone inning of work.

Video: Cecil eager for second season as Cardinals reliever

Injury updates
Yairo Munoz entered as a pinch-runner and scored after Matheny pronounced his left shoulder "game ready." Munoz had missed a few days with a strain in his non-throwing shoulder.

Acquired from Oakland in the deal that sent Stephen Piscotty to the A's this winter, Munoz has impressed the Cardinals with his versatility and bat this spring. He is hitting .346 in Grapefruit League play, and could sneak onto the Opening Day roster.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Tyler O'Neill underwent an MRI to determine the severity of the right hamstring strain that forced him from Friday's loss at Houston. The injury is expected to sideline O'Neill for most of the remaining spring schedule. O'Neill, who was also hampered by an oblique strain earlier in camp, had been in the mix for the fourth-outfielder job.

"Right out the box you think 8-10 days, possibly two weeks," Matheny said. "That's too bad, because that's all we have left."

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals

Camp battle
With O'Neill injured, the fight for the final bench spot comes down to Harrison Bader, Adolis Garcia, Luke Voit and Munoz. Bader and Garcia both bring a speed element, and both (along with Munoz) can play all three outfield positions.

But that won't necessarily help them against Voit, a corner-outfield-type (who'd probably play more first base if not for Jose Martinez). The Cardinals already have three starting outfielders who can play center, giving them plenty of options in the event that starting center fielder Tommy Pham suffers an injury. Who breaks camp in that last bench spot will be who hits, and in that sense, it was notable to see Voit, Bader and Garcia in the same starting lineup Saturday.

Bader and Garcia manufactured a run together in the seventh inning, when Garcia's RBI single scored Bader, who doubled. Voit went 0-for-2, and Munoz struck out in his lone at-bat.

Bader and Garcia played full games in left and center, respectively. In the eighth inning, Garcia flubbed a catchable ball that was scored a double after running a long way into the right-center-field gap.

Up Next
On Monday, the Cardinals will get their first full off-day since Grapefruit League play began. But first, a matchup of tough righties against the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Sunday. Luke Weaver lines up against Tanner Roark at 12:05 p.m. CT. Watch the game live on MLB.TV.

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

St. Louis Cardinals