DETROIT -- Following a week of auditions and uncertainty, manager Mike Shildt said after the Cardinals' 5-2 win over the Tigers on Sunday afternoon that Carlos Martinez is the team's closer. The announcement came after Martinez threw a perfect ninth in Detroit to earn his second save of the season.
"He [had] a nice smile on his face," Shildt said of when he told Martinez the news Sunday morning.
The move comes nearly a week after Shildt wouldn't commit to Bud Norris being the closer. The Cardinals then shuffled through Norris, Martinez and Jordan Hicks on a day-by-day basis in the late innings. Counting Friday's performance, Martinez easily came away with the best numbers, throwing four scoreless innings over the past seven days.
"I expect him to execute," Shildt said. "We'll evaluate like we did with Bud. We feel good about what Carlos can bring."
Shildt emphasized that he trusts whoever takes the mound in the ninth inning, and the group's post-All-Star break numbers support that. Martinez, Hicks and Norris entered Sunday's game with a combined 3.63 ERA over 57 innings in that span.
There was a downward trend during the last week, though. In Friday's loss, Hicks threw a perfect eighth inning before giving up a two-run walk-off home run to Jeimer Candelario with one out in the ninth. On Saturday, Norris took the mound in a 3-3 game in the ninth. He didn't give up a hit, but a walk issued to Candelario put the Tigers in position to bunt Victor Reyes to third. Reyes scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch.
The pressure on the bullpen, and Martinez in particular, will only increase now that the Cardinals are making a concerted effort to manage the workload of their young starting staff. That's on top of the stress that comes with a postseason push in September. In some games, Shildt may have no other choice but to trust the late-innings arms that happen to be free that day.
"Do we have a perfect world where everyone's available every day?" Shildt asked rhetorically. "It's not the world I live in."
Though Norris had already been informally bumped from the full-time closer role, Shildt said the 33-year-old righty will be "reshuffled" in the bullpen.
"It's a tough conversation," Shildt said of telling Norris that Martinez is the closer. "[Norris] has [about] 30 saves. He's done a nice job for us. We talk about consistency. We're looking for consistency on the club. Him and Hicks have carried the mail for us for the first four and a half months of the season.
"It's a tough game. Not for lack of effort. He just hasn't been able to execute as much as he'd like the last couple times out. We'll get him in a spot where he can maybe be a little more comfortable doing that."