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Martinez adds new pitch to evolving arsenal

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

CINCINNATI -- What technically became Carlos Martinez's fifth pitch was born on a backfield in Jupiter, Florida, this spring, during an innocent game of catch. That's when Adam Wainwright told Martinez to toy around with the way he grips his fastball.

On paper, Martinez already featured two different types, a four-seamer and a two-seamer. But in reality he harnessed several more, adding and subtracting velocity to both to produce an array of variations. Now he has another, the cutter Wainwright suggested.

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CINCINNATI -- What technically became Carlos Martinez's fifth pitch was born on a backfield in Jupiter, Florida, this spring, during an innocent game of catch. That's when Adam Wainwright told Martinez to toy around with the way he grips his fastball.

On paper, Martinez already featured two different types, a four-seamer and a two-seamer. But in reality he harnessed several more, adding and subtracting velocity to both to produce an array of variations. Now he has another, the cutter Wainwright suggested.

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"I'm already as comfortable throwing it as I am throwing my two-seamer," said Martinez, who has thrown a two-seamer his entire career.

Martinez spoke of his new pitch a day prior to his fourth start of the season, scheduled for Sunday against the Reds. He's increased his cutter usage steadily over the first three, from four times in his season debut to 21 times his last time out, against the Brewers. And the early returns are good.

Hitters are just 1-for-8 against Martinez's cutter, and generally hitting the ball softly when they put it in play. The new pitch has elicited a 80.9 mph average exit velocity in a small, but growing, sample. Martinez is throwing the pitch 11.15 percent of the time, just a little more than month after learning it.

"It's another tool for his arsenal," Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He has loose wrists and good feel and a natural ability to manipulate the baseball. The challenge will be keeping it separate from his changeup and his slider."

That challenge is also what makes it effective. Martinez throws his cutter at an average of 90.3 mph, exactly equidistant in velocity between his two-seamer and changeup. Another three mph separates his changeup and slider, giving Martinez four pitches separated by identical speed intervals. It's a mix bookended by a 95.2 mph cutter and a curveball that swoops in at 78.6 mph.

"If you do one thing well, try to do two things well," Maddux said. "If you do three things well that's better. If you do four things well, you're ahead of the curve. If you do five things well, then wow."

Martinez's first in-game foray with the cutter came in his second spring start, after which he grinned.

"Did you see my new pitch?" he asked reporters. Martinez's plan for it was two-fold. The cutter's quick, sharp break, in to lefties, could help neutralize the platoon splits. And the weak contact it produced could result in quick outs, allowing Martinez to pitch deeper in games.

But he struggled with in in his second spring start, allowing a home run to the Marlins' Derek Deitrich, a left-handed swinger.

"The description of the pitch was, Carlos has a new toy but it did not come with instructions," Maddux said.

A month later, the pitch is still a work-in-progress. But it's been refined. The cutter helped Martinez limit the Brewers to a lone run across 14 1/3 innings over his last two starts, where it particularly came in handy against Christian Yelich and Eric Thames.

"I know it's working well," Martinez said. "When I see a surprised reaction."

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez