Martinez moving forward in rehab process

April 20th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- With each new checkpoint Carlos Martinez reaches in the rehab program for his rotator cuff injury, the more he’s nudging the Cardinals toward having to make a decision about where the right-hander will best fit upon his return.

That path will likely be chosen within the next two weeks, as Martinez is poised to relocate his throwing program to Florida next week, so that he can face hitters in sessions of live batting practice. He could then be cleared to begin a rehab assignment before the end of April, manager Mike Shildt confirmed.

“Right now, I want to be on the mound,” Martinez said, after throwing a 30-pitch bullpen session on Saturday. “But I’m being smart. I’m trying to [stay] healthy. I’m so excited because soon I’m going to be on the mound.”

Martinez estimated that he exerted himself to about 80-percent capacity while throwing his full repertoire of pitches in this most recent side session. That included mixing in cutters and two-seamers for the first time since returning to the mound earlier this month.

As Martinez passes each new test, the attention shifts more and more toward the organization, which has to determine how to maximize contributions from the right-hander for the remainder of the season. Primary consideration will be given to how Martinez’s body could handle starting or relief roles. 

Returning to the rotation would require Martinez to be built up to throw 100-plus pitches in an appearance. Pitching out of the ‘pen would necessitate making more frequent appearances. Both will stress his shoulder, but in different ways. 

Nevertheless, as the Cardinals weigh the two options, they are encouraged to see some early benefits from the upper body strength Martinez has gained since refocusing his work early in Spring Training. 

“The medical team and performance group have been really positive about what that looks like,” Shildt said. “The recovery speaks more to the point. His attitude and how he feels and his communication probably speaks as loud as anything. Carlos is really honest. Good, open dialogue about where he is and what he needs to do and how he needs to do it.”

The Cardinals will also consider the current state of their Major League pitching staff when choosing a path for Martinez -- and there’s an argument to be made about how both the rotation and bullpen would benefit from his presence. 

The starters have thus far collectively underachieved, but the ‘pen has been challenged by injuries and the unexpected early demotion of Alex Reyes. It’s easy to see how a healthy Martinez could offer a boost to either.

“We’ll probably look to see how he comes through with the live BPs; see what that looks like,” Shildt said. “And then we’ll figure out how to ramp him up from there.”