The Cardinals were hopeful that Carlos Martínez’s thumb injury would be minor, after he continued to pitch for 1 1/3 innings despite jamming it while fouling off a ball in Colorado on Sunday.
Positive vibes have instead morphed into a bleak outlook. Martínez, placed on the injured list prior to Wednesday’s series finale against the Giants, is not “expected in the rotation in the very near future,” manager Mike Shildt said, with a torn ligament in his right thumb. Outfielder Lars Nootbaar was recalled from Triple-A Memphis as the corresponding move.
Now, only one starting pitcher from the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster (Adam Wainwright) remains in the rotation, and the team is left with just four healthy starters as the All-Star break approaches.
“Your starting pitching is typically one of the tallest buildings in your community. It’s a big pillar to what we do and it's something that we have hung our hat on for years in this organization,” Shilidt said. “We got to figure out creative solutions.”
Martínez said he felt some discomfort after fouling off a ball in the top of the third inning but was able to initially pitch through it. Then he felt the thumb swell, affecting his ability to grip the ball and resulting in his exit with one out in the fourth.
Playing catch at Oracle Park this week, Martínez continued to struggle with his grip. That incited the club to conduct an MRI, which revealed the tear and a tough diagnosis for Martínez, who appeared to be steadying himself after a disastrous month of June.
Regardless, the absence of Martínez means the Cardinals will continue to play shorthanded when it comes to their rotation, with Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas still out, likely until August.
Some of the aforementioned creativity starts on Friday, when, after St. Louis’ first off-day since June 21, the recently signed Wade LeBlanc will open the three-game series at Wrigley Field on regular rest, followed by Kwang Hyun Kim (injured on Opening Day) and Wainwright.
But the Cardinals need a fifth starter. Asked what he would do if the Cubs series was a four-game set, with Johan Oviedo theoretically unavailable while pitching Wednesday, Shildt said he likely would have employed a bullpen game with the All-Star break looming.
The club had been monitoring the trade market even before Martínez’s diagnosis, but it hasn’t felt the proper timing nor pieces have been available to get something done. The need may be exacerbated.
Internal options out of the break include Angel Rondón, who impressed at the Triple-A level and in a Major League cameo in June, or right-hander Jake Woodford, who was sent to Triple-A to stretch out.
Shildt, though, said the club wants Woodford to get more reps at the Triple-A level.
“There's some learning curve to what that [development] looks like for him,” Shildt said. “We've had a few of those guys this year.”
Martínez’s injury was the third for a Cardinals starter this year due to an at-bat, after Flaherty hurt his left oblique on a swing and Kim aggravated a Spring Training back injury trying to beat out a ground ball.
“The offense has not been very, very good to us from the pitching perspective,” Shildt said.
Reliving Carlson’s immaculate catch
Wainwright was in the Oracle Park clubhouse along with Andrew Miller after each did their part to pitch the Cardinals to a 6-5 win over the Giants on Tuesday night. Wainwright, watching on a delayed feed, heard some yells and then groans from stands through the ceiling above him. He knew an out was recorded to seal the series win but had no idea how.
Miller, watching a live feed on an overhead TV in the clubhouse, saw it in real time.
“Ah, it was just a ground ball to short,” Miller quipped to Wainwright.
Then Wainwright saw Dylan Carlson make one of the best Cardinals catches this season, and his adrenaline soared -- though not nearly to the level of Carlson, yelling as he raced to the infield to celebrate with his teammates.
It was one feather in what has been an under-the-radar yet impressive defensive season for Carlson, now having played all three outfield spots, the latest of which has been left, with Tyler O’Neill battling a bruised hand and now a food-related allergy.
Could it spur Carlson in the batter’s box? He’s batting just .228 with a .661 OPS since the beginning of June. Precedent might suggest yes. O’Neill made a superb game-ending catch against the Dodgers on June 1 and has hit .277/.361/.479 since.
“I think good players make good plays pretty consistently, I think that's what you see out of a guy like Dylan,” Shildt said. “But the more good plays you make, the more things you did positively, creates more confidence, which creates more consistency.”