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Martinez ready for opener despite limited starts

Cardinals ace adds fifth pitch; mixed feelings for Flaherty on making club
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- Perhaps no Cardinals player had a stranger spring than Carlos Martinez, whose search for consistency took him home, took him to the back fields, but rarely to the main stadium mound. Still, Martinez says he is ready. Ready to make his second consecutive Opening Day start, and ready to ascend to the heights the club has long envisioned for him.

"For me, it's a blessing. It's a great, great opportunity. I represent the Cardinals. I'm the ace. I'm going to be strong for the whole season," Martinez said. "Show the people I'm working. Show the people I'm better than last year, you know?"

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Perhaps no Cardinals player had a stranger spring than Carlos Martinez, whose search for consistency took him home, took him to the back fields, but rarely to the main stadium mound. Still, Martinez says he is ready. Ready to make his second consecutive Opening Day start, and ready to ascend to the heights the club has long envisioned for him.

"For me, it's a blessing. It's a great, great opportunity. I represent the Cardinals. I'm the ace. I'm going to be strong for the whole season," Martinez said. "Show the people I'm working. Show the people I'm better than last year, you know?"

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Still just 26, Martinez is entering his fourth season as a full-time starter. Two have been special. Last year's was very good, when Martinez set a career high in innings but saw his ERA rise. But the Cardinals long considered Martinez capable of reaching another gear.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"With the stuff he has, if he's not in the conversation as a Cy Young contender, then something is wrong. Whether he likes that or not, it's the truth," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I want to continue to help these guys use the God-given talent they have, and maximize it. Carlos is no different than the rest, he's just been given a lot [of that talent]."

In some ways, this spring could've been the perfect place for the roots of such a transition to take place. The club hopes the influence of new pitching coach Mike Maddux -- "he's funny," Martinez says -- helps him elevate into the echelon of the game's top pitchers. Martinez also learned a cutter from teammate Adam Wainwright, providing him another -- fifth -- pitch in what was already an electric and varied arsenal.

"My best pitch is my two-seamer and changeup. For strikeouts, the slider," Martinez said. "But I want to show the other teams I have another pitch now. It's good."

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Carlos Martinez on his changeup

But in other ways, Martinez fought to find the consistency the club considers integral for his development, which is still in progress. Martinez struggled with his mechanics early, then missed his second start due to a personal issue that forced him to leave camp. He made just three Grapefruit League starts, two against the Minor League-heavy Marlins, to middling results. The rest of his work came on the back fields, mostly out of sight except to an uncommonly large number of Minor League hitters.

"The first three starts of this Spring Training, I was not comfortable with my pitches," Martinez said. "That's why I did that in the Minor Leagues. I was working. I was working with my new pitch, the cutter. That's it. Right now, I feel strong. I feel comfortable with every pitch."

Martinez is not expected to travel with the club to Montreal for its two exhibition games against the Blue Jays because of visa issues. He'll rejoin the club in New York for its Opening Day tilt against the Mets on Thursday.

"Last year, that was a great season for me. This year, I got more mature. I've got a better mentality right now. It's a beautiful opportunity to keep going, working hard. Bring everything I got."

Video: STL@BAL: Flaherty strikes out Trumbo swinging

Flaherty sets sights on rotation
Matheny teased that rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty may have even cracked a smile when Matheny informed him he'd head north with the club, a rotation replacement for the injured Wainwright.

"He showed some teeth," Matheny said.

"Just enough," said the usually mild-mannered Flaherty. "Just enough to show."

Of course, it's a complicated bit of news for Flaherty to react to. On a personal note, the club's No. 2 prospect earned his first Opening Day roster spot. On another, there was only a spot to fill because of an injury to Wainwright, a teammate and franchise icon.

"You want what's best for the team. Grand scheme of things its all about what's best for the team," Flaherty said. "You never want to see a guy go down. I hope he comes back healthy and feels good and helps the team."

Spring stats
• The Cardinals finished Grapefruit League play 16-12, good for fourth place in the 15-team circuit.
Marcell Ozuna led all Cardinals players in hitting (.345), Paul DeJong paced the club with four home runs and Jose Martinez led the way with 13 RBIs.
Miles Mikolas led all Cardinals pitchers with 15 2/3 innings. Luke Weaver paced starters in ERA (0.68), while Mike Mayers threw the most combined shutout innings with 12.

Up next
Two exhibition games against the Blue Jays in Montreal separate the Cardinals from Opening Day in New York. They'll play the first on Monday, when Michael Wacha takes the mound at 6:07 p.m. CT from Olympic Stadium. The game can be seen on MLB.TV

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez