As Carlos Martínez gears up for Spring Training, what will likely be his final outing of the 2020-21 winter ball season is just around the corner. The right-hander is slated to start for the Águilas Cibaeñas, champions of the Dominican Winter League, on Sunday vs. Puerto Rico’s Criollos de Caguas on the first day of the Caribbean Series in Mazatlán, Mexico.
“It’s an honor to represent the Dominican Republic, to represent my country,” Martínez said via teleconference on Monday.
After his start in the traditional tournament of Latin American league champions, Martínez will eye a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation after a 2020 season in which a COVID-19 diagnosis and a strained left oblique limited him to just five starts; he posted a 9.90 ERA and allowed six home runs in 20 innings.
“He has to come in and earn a spot,” said John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, last month.
Going into the final guaranteed season of his five-year, $51 million contract with St. Louis, Martínez rejoined the Águilas last month for the first time since the 2013-14 winter campaign in order to build up his workload and go to camp in the best shape possible following his limited activity last year. In 15 1/3 innings over three starts in the D.R. this winter, he has given up five runs (four earned) and struck out 15, while giving up 13 hits and walking three.
“Physically, I feel fine,” said Martínez, who added that he threw a 40-pitch bullpen session on Monday “with no difficulty.”
Since being named to the National League All-Star team twice in a three-year span between 2015 and 2017 -- when he was 42-27 with a 3.24 ERA and an ERA+ of 126 -- Martínez has seen his career take an uneven path. Injuries forced him to the bullpen in 2018, and although he helped the Cardinals win the NL Central the following year with 24 saves as the team’s closer, his 2020 campaign was forgettable for both him and the club. If he doesn’t make the rotation out of camp, he could face an uncertain bullpen role.
But first things first: His start on Sunday for the Águilas, which will be his second time representing the Dominican Republic in international play after the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
“I feel 100 percent ready,” he said.
The 63rd Caribbean Series will be played from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6 and include the winter champions from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama.