SAN FRANCISCO -- The process of getting Carlos Martinez back to the all-world level he was at before a lat strain zapped three weeks of his season and prompted a bizarre four-start stretch of ineffectiveness, began last month. After his worst outing of the year culminated in an sloppy loss
SAN FRANCISCO -- The process of getting Carlos Martinez back to the all-world level he was at before a lat strain zapped three weeks of his season and prompted a bizarre four-start stretch of ineffectiveness, began last month. After his worst outing of the year culminated in an sloppy loss in Milwaukee -- possibly the low point of the Cardinals' season -- the team sought ways to tap into "the psychology" of their ace right-hander.
Their focus became his focus, and how to sharpen its wavering nature into a constant. They used Martinez's bullpen session later that week to simulate game situations, dictating the names of hitters Martinez would face next time out. The hope was that the exercises would eliminate his lapses in concentration and return their ace to form. After Martinez delivered perhaps his crispest outing of the year to lead St. Louis to a 3-2 win over the Giants on Saturday at AT&T Park, it appears that they have.
"It's about getting into Carlos' mind that he has to be as sharp as he can be in the first inning. How long does it take? That's always the question for him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's as much about the psychology of it as it is the physical aspect of it."
Both are back, in spades. Free from the fear of his lat issue resurfacing and focused on being aggressive, the righty has resolved to visualize troublesome first innings in the 'pen, then leave them there.
That mindset has translated into results. Martinez walked 20 over 16 2/3 innings and posted an 8.10 ERA in his first four starts back from the disabled list. In the three since, he is 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA, issuing just three free passes in 19 innings.
"When I came back from the DL, I wasn't comfortable," Martinez said. "I didn't believe I can throw normally, because I just got hurt. I was scared. Right now I have everything back."
Four-seam, two-seam, cutter, slider, changeup. All were on display Saturday when Martinez breezed through seven innings, benefiting from a bevy of soft contact. While generating his own support with an RBI double in the third, Martinez scattered six hits and allowed one run. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes and did not walk a batter, which is as good an indicator as any that he has put his control issues squarely in the rearview mirror.
"The last three starts, I have had really, really good focus," Martinez said. "All my pitches were moving today, and I was trying to throw them right in the middle."
Not until the sixth inning Saturday did the Giants scrape across a run on Brandon Belt's RBI double; by then, the Cardinals had given Martinez three runs to work with, two of them courtesy of a fourth-inning rally off losing pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
San Francisco inched closer with a tally off Jordan Hicks in the eighth before Bud Norris returned from a two-day injury scare (finger soreness) to notch his 17th save and secure the win with a perfect ninth.
That secured Martinez's third straight win, a stretch that has mirrored his strong eight-start run to begin the year. Before landing on the DL in mid-May, Martinez had a 1.62 ERA.
"You can see that rhythm. You can tell he found something in the 'pen that he brought onto the mound," Matheny said. "He's in a nice place now. He looks just like he did before he got hurt."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Norris needed just seven pitches to toss a 1-2-3 ninth in his first appearance since exiting with discomfort in his right index finger on Wednesday. Norris rested Thursday before undergoing an MRI on Friday, which revealed no structural damage in the finger Norris uses to apply pressure to his two-seam fastball.
"It's obviously going to creep into the back of your head, but I felt great yesterday and got a great throwing session in," Norris said. "Felt great today, felt good warming up, felt good out there and feel great now. I think it's past me, and I just want to go forward."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Back in the lineup for the first time in nine games (including three missed while on the paternity list), William Fowler drove in the game's second run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth. The slumping outfielder has expressed frustration with his lack of playing time since his role was reduced to part-time last month. Fowler finished 0-for-3 with an RBI, dropping his batting average to .168.
HE SAID IT
"It's a mindset that he works on in the bullpen. We say, 'Buster Posey is up.' Or, 'so and so is up.' When you practice the way you play the game, it helps a lot." -- Francisco Pena, who caught Martinez on Saturday and regularly catches his bullpen sessions
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Much of the Cardinals' bench erupted in protest after Kolten Wong appeared to beat out a bunt single in the fourth, but was ruled out by first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth. The call was overturned after a 39-second review, extending the inning for Pena, who promptly singled home St. Louis' third run of the afternoon.
The Cardinals are planning for Yadier Molina (right shoulder soreness) to return to the starting lineup Sunday after a one-game break when this four-game series concludes at AT&T Park. Hit battery mate will be Jack Flaherty (3-4, 3.19), the rookie right-hander looking to halt a two-game losing streak. Madison Bumgarner (1-3, 2.58) will start for the Giants, with first pitch set for 3:05 p.m. CT.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.