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Martinez progressing, close to facing hitters

Cards righty remains on track to be in Opening Day rotation
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

JUPITER, Fla. -- Carlos Martinez's modified spring program will soon have him graduating to the next step -- facing hitters -- in order to stay on track for inclusion in the Cardinals' Opening Day rotation.

While most other pitchers have already thrown at least one session of live batting practice, Martinez has been limited to side sessions. He's thrown three, including one Thursday in which he was cleared to increase the intensity. It went well, and the Cardinals have him slated to throw once more off the mound Sunday before pitting him against hitters next week.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Carlos Martinez's modified spring program will soon have him graduating to the next step -- facing hitters -- in order to stay on track for inclusion in the Cardinals' Opening Day rotation.

While most other pitchers have already thrown at least one session of live batting practice, Martinez has been limited to side sessions. He's thrown three, including one Thursday in which he was cleared to increase the intensity. It went well, and the Cardinals have him slated to throw once more off the mound Sunday before pitting him against hitters next week.

Cardinals' Spring Training info

"I know it's behind as far as the timing of everybody else, but I don't see it as being behind in the big scheme of things [as far] as having him ready to pitch at the beginning of the season," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's making great strides with everything and is responding well and taking great steps forward."

The Cardinals wanted to Martinez to build his arm strength up cautiously since he is five months removed from incurring a shoulder strain that prematurely ended his season. With three off-days sandwiched between the club's first and eighth regular-season games, St. Louis will have the flexibility to allow Martinez's spring work continue into April without having to find a substitute fifth starter.

Worth noting

• After missing two days of workouts because of food poisoning, outfielder Stephen Piscotty returned to camp Saturday. The Cardinals encouraged him to ease back into things, though Piscotty did step in to face Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha during live batting practice.

• Matheny has not announced any of his exhibition game pitching plans, but he did acknowledge that left-hander Austin Gomber will appear in Wednesday's contest against Florida Atlantic University. Gomber, who was named the organization's Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year in 2015, was drafted out of FAU in '14.

• The Cardinals held 13 sessions of live batting practice Saturday, all for pitchers going through the exercise for the second time. Starters like Wainwright, Wacha and Jaime Garcia threw two 18-pitch "innings" while taking a short break in between.

• Left-hander Tim Cooney, who had his throwing program slowed after feeling soreness in his shoulder last weekend, has resumed light throwing.

• Matheny said that "everything [was] positive," for Yadier Molina a day after the veteran catcher put on pads and started receiving and blocking pitches for the first time since his December thumb surgery. Molina has not been cleared to catch a bullpen session.

• The Cards held their first Spring Training Early Program (STEP) workout Saturday for a group of invite-only Minor Leaguers. The organization invited 24 players, including top prospects Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty, to participate in STEP this spring. These players get a head start with their spring workouts, as well as an opportunity to meet members of the Major League coaching staff and attend various seminars.

• Following Saturday's workout, uniformed players and staff members remained at the complex to participate in an hour-long autograph signing session with season-ticket holders.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez