Do Cards have another lethal starter in-house?

Injuries have kept Martínez in 'pen, he believes he can make rotation

February 24th, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- As worked through right shoulder issues the past two years and was moved to the bullpen, he still made it clear that he wanted back in the rotation. But saying it over and over didn’t just make it happen. Injuries prevented the right-hander from sustaining a starter’s workload in 2018, and he ended that year in the bullpen with lingering shoulder trouble.

Last year, Martínez didn’t throw an inning in spring games because of shoulder weakness. He was moved to the bullpen and emerged as the Cardinals' closer in the second half.

This spring, Martínez is back on a starter’s schedule, competing for one of two open spots in the Cards' rotation. Above all, he's back on the mound, which shouldn’t be taken lightly after last spring.

“He can’t be in the starter mix if he’s not out here,” manager Mike Shildt said before Martínez made his spring debut on Sunday. “And he is. He’s out here giving himself a legitimate chance to compete for that spot, and we’re thrilled for him.”

Martínez threw 34 pitches Sunday against the Mets, speeding through his first inning before two walks led to two runs the next frame. Perhaps more important than the outing itself is how Martínez recovers.

Martínez wasn’t available for comment Sunday or Monday, but Shildt said there’s no concern and that the right-hander played catch Monday morning.

It will be just that -- Martínez’s recovery and preparation in between outings -- that will determine if the two-time All-Star can return to the rotation this year.

“I think games are going to matter, of course,” Shildt said. “It’s just really about what he does during the work and how he recovers in between the games that’s really going to dictate as we try to ramp him up. Is he able to pitch well, which we’re comfortable and confident he will with the weapons he has. It’s just about the recovery and being able to build up to a starter load.”

Martínez has had the talent to carry him as an effective starter and then closer for years. But the Cardinals have wanted to see a consistent approach to his pregame routine and his routine between starts, especially after dealing with injuries the last few years. He focused on conditioning this offseason and showed up to Spring Training slimmer and ready to be on a starter’s schedule.

Martínez said last week that he’s added flexibility to his plan in between throwing days. He’s emphasized that listening to his body is going to be important this year more than ever; he wants to be smart with his health so he can sustain it.

“Everybody knows he’s got tremendous stuff,” said starter . “And he’s just as cool as a cucumber out there. The game has always been really easy for Carlos from an athletic point, so when he gets himself into the right mind frame and position to make pitches, he can be really really dangerous and a great weapon. So he’s one of the top, most talented people in the game -- no question about it.”

Sometimes a pitcher’s routine off the field is just as important as how he performs on it. Wainwright is devoted to a routine that has allowed him pitch in the Majors for 14 years. Shildt constantly praises ’s routine and preparation -- two components that allowed Flaherty to take his talent to the historic second half he had in 2019.

If Martínez can put his talent together with a devoted routine, he’ll be adding another elite arm to the Cards' rotation.

And if he can stay healthy and recover well after throwing?

“He can be what he has shown,” Shildt said. “The All-Star.”