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Martinez improves, still seeks efficiency

Cardinals starter rebounds from rough starts by allowing two runs -- but in just five-plus frames
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Though Carlos Martinez remains winless through three May starts, he emerged from a recent funk with a five-plus-inning start on Friday that served as a step back in a positive direction for the 23-year-old starter. This time it was inefficiency -- not uncontrolled emotions -- that kept Martinez from pitching deeper in the Cardinals' 10-4 loss to the Tigers.

After allowing seven earned runs in each of his previous two starts, Martinez held the Tigers to two in the series opener. The first came via a Yoenis Cespedes blast, the seventh homer Martinez has allowed in 40 innings this season. While all have been solo shots, that total is still just one fewer than the rest of the Cardinals' rotation has allowed over a combined 165 1/3 innings.

Full Game Coverage

ST. LOUIS -- Though Carlos Martinez remains winless through three May starts, he emerged from a recent funk with a five-plus-inning start on Friday that served as a step back in a positive direction for the 23-year-old starter. This time it was inefficiency -- not uncontrolled emotions -- that kept Martinez from pitching deeper in the Cardinals' 10-4 loss to the Tigers.

After allowing seven earned runs in each of his previous two starts, Martinez held the Tigers to two in the series opener. The first came via a Yoenis Cespedes blast, the seventh homer Martinez has allowed in 40 innings this season. While all have been solo shots, that total is still just one fewer than the rest of the Cardinals' rotation has allowed over a combined 165 1/3 innings.

Full Game Coverage

A leadoff triple by Anthony Gose in the fifth set the Tigers up to score again, though Martinez did highlight his night with a strikeout of Miguel Cabrera later in that frame.

"I felt a lot better than the last couple times that I threw," Martinez said, via a translator, after the 103-pitch effort. "I felt much better with the sinker. The sinker was working good today in the strike zone and down."

Manager Mike Matheny noted that the pitch was "probably as good of a sinker as he's had," though some of its effectiveness was negated by off-and-on command issues and extended at-bats. Though Martinez matched his career high with eight strikeouts, he also threw only 63 percent of his pitches for strikes. It left Martinez to accept an early exit and the bullpen to shoulder four innings.

"He just can't average 20 pitches an innings," Matheny said. "It's not going to work out real well for you. ... The stuff is there. He looks good. He's just going to have to be more on the plate with it."

Entering his first season as a full-time Major League starter, Martinez had efficiency atop his list of priorities. A lack of it was the reason Martinez never was able to turn spot starts in 2014 into a longer starting assignment. He knew it'd be key to him sticking in the rotation this time around.

The issue seemed to be fading by the end of April, as Martinez finished at least six innings in each of his first four starts. In three outings since then, however, he hasn't hit that benchmark. On Friday, Martinez had three innings of 21 pitches and none with fewer than 17.

"I wish I had thrown more innings than I threw today, but I competed and the score was close," said Martinez, who left with the club trailing, 2-0. "But I want to do better next time."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez