Martínez ahead of schedule: 'I feel strong'

January 19th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- showed up to Winter Warmup this weekend in St. Louis and learned he is cleared to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday in Jupiter, Fla. After a shoulder injury pushed him to the bullpen and ultimately to the role of the Cardinals’ closer last season, the right-hander is working to return to the rotation in 2020.

Martínez had a procedure at the start of the offseason to help with ongoing discomfort. On Saturday, a slimmer Martínez, with a new haircut, said he’s looking forward to a healthy and smart year in the rotation.

“I feel 100 percent right now; I feel good and comfortable,” Martínez said. “Right now, I feel strong -- and I can show everybody. I'm just waiting for Spring Training and getting ready.”

Martínez said he feels more comfortable in a starting role, and the Cardinals plan to have him compete for a spot in the rotation as long as his shoulder is able to stay healthy. St. Louis signed Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim in December for depth and flexibility as the club gains clarity on what Martínez can do.

“He’s confident that he’s in a good spot,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Saturday. “He’s ahead of schedule of where we thought he’d be today vs. when we were mapping this out in early November. But having said that, there’s still some hurdles. Overall, there is some optimism here.”

Martínez said the main difference between this offseason and past winters is that he is working out every day. He hopes it will help his strength from the first inning on instead of just the eighth or ninth inning that he worked in the bullpen. Martínez’s focus is on being smart this offseason and into the 2020 season.

“I'm looking forward to being smart,” he said. “Last season, I got a little frustrated. Now I'm trying to be smart and to be healthy. … I'm trying to be smart and not lose any days. Just preparing everything -- my arm and body -- and trying to be healthy and strong.”

Reyes hoping normal offseason pays off
For the first time in three years, former top prospect is having a normal offseason -- with no rehab in sight. The right-handed fireballer is hoping that the normalcy, which includes spending the winter at his home in the Dominican Republic with his family, will lead to a season without any injuries.

Reyes threw a bullpen at a field in the Dominican Republic last Friday and wasn’t limited in his pitches. He threw 25-30 pitches, and he didn’t have to worry about nursing a recovering arm. He let it rip and threw with “high intensity,” he said Saturday.

“I feel good,” Reyes said. “Mentally, I think what helped the most is just not being around rehab, rehab, rehab. It’s been three years of strictly rehab for me. … I thought it was huge for me to be able to be with my family.”

Reyes has been sidelined by elbow and shoulder injuries, but in 2019, he was sidelined with a self-inflicted injury after he broke his left pinkie finger punching a wall. Later in the season, he suffered a right pectoral strain that kept him out the rest of the season.

Still, the Cardinals stuck by him, especially manager Mike Shildt. Reyes said he talked to his former Triple-A manager every other day during the season, and Shildt offered Reyes advice about his frustration and setbacks.

“I never felt like they were pushing me away or anything like that,” Reyes said. “It was more frustration on my side of me not handling my job on the field. I let it get the best of me, and Shildty has always been there for me, and he’s a huge mentor for me and I love him for that.”

Reyes still sees himself as a future reliable starter for the Cardinals, but that path likely begins through the bullpen, especially this year. The Cardinals are hoping to see Reyes take over a high-leverage role, especially if Martínez moves to the rotation and the late-inning relievers have to be reshuffled. Regardless of the role, Reyes hopes to embrace it.

“My main goal is to be healthy and be on the 25-man roster,” Reyes said. “My job is to show up to spring ready and make that [roster] decision tougher on them.”

Mozeliak discusses sign-stealing
Amid the sign-stealing scandal making its way through baseball, the Cardinals made sure to ask necessary questions within their own organization, and Mozeliak was confident that nothing illegal was happening with his staff.

“We were not forced to do that, but we thought it would be prudent to do so,” Mozeliak said. “And, needless to say, our sophistication down there did not prove to be something over concerning. But still I think it was worth the exercise.”

Mozeliak said that the Cardinals likely will address the team about the scandal in Spring Training, especially if there are rules put in place that affect the players. He also clarified that hitting coach Jeff Albert, who spent 2017 as Houston’s Minor League hitting coordinator, “is not in the crosshairs” of the suspensions coming out of the Commissioner’s office. Albert told Mozeliak at the start of the investigation that he was not involved and didn’t know what was going on in the Astros’ Major League clubhouse during ’17.

Worth noting
• Mozeliak elaborated on the Cardinals’ acquisition of earlier this week by saying that Dean provides the Cardinals a player with options who can move in and out of Triple-A Memphis. Adding the right-handed-hitting Dean doesn’t necessarily preclude additions to the outfield from outside the organization.

“We spent all offseason talking about how we need to clean up our outfield,” Mozeliak said. “And then, 48 hours later, we go out and acquire another outfielder, so you're probably going, ‘What's going on?’ But having somebody with options just made sense and gives us that flexibility to ramp up our depth that gives us the flexibility to use that I-55 corridor.”

• Right-hander said he will come into Spring Training as a starter -- with the mindset that he could have a valuable role in the bullpen this year, too.

“I spoke to [pitching coach Mike] Maddux early in the offseason, and he said he wanted me to have the mindset to come into camp and be ready to start if that’s what they planned on me doing,” Helsley said. “I like both. It’s hard to say. I like both aspects of it. They both have their ups and downs, so we’ll see what happens in spring.”