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Slugger Martinez adjusting to new part-time role

Third-year player respects Cards' decision to cut back his playing time
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twelve years into a professional career in which he has overcome three knee surgeries, a decade in the Minors and various other odds, Jose Martinez now faces a new challenge. It is due to a polarizing skill set that Martinez must learn to become comfortable in an odd new role: part-time No. 3 hitter.

Martinez returned to his typical spot in the lineup Saturday after two days on the bench. He went 1-for-4 in the Cardinals' 3-2 win.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Twelve years into a professional career in which he has overcome three knee surgeries, a decade in the Minors and various other odds, Jose Martinez now faces a new challenge. It is due to a polarizing skill set that Martinez must learn to become comfortable in an odd new role: part-time No. 3 hitter.

Martinez returned to his typical spot in the lineup Saturday after two days on the bench. He went 1-for-4 in the Cardinals' 3-2 win.

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"My main thing is staying in the big leagues," Martinez said. "If this is going to be my role, that's it. I'm going to do it."

The Cardinals plan to continue to limit Martinez's exposure on defense in the weeks to come, knowing it could them some offensive production. St. Louis' most consistent hitter this season, Martinez has produced a .291/.356/.479 slash line and 52 RBIs. But his transition to first base has not gone smoothly; Martinez ranks among the bottom five first basemen in the Majors in a variety of metrics, and has committed a National League-high seven errors.

The Cardinals believe sacrificing a sliver of his offense is a tradeoff worth taking. Exactly how to keep him involved enough, they're less sure of.

"Having that focus on the defensive side of the infield is something we're going to continue to do," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "For Jose, we need to keep him sharp. It's a challenge."

Martinez is taking it in stride, putting in extra work in the outfield as a way to maximize his opportunities. But with Harrison Bader already starting over Dexter Fowler in right and Marcell Ozuna and Tommy Pham entrenched in left and center, respectively, most of Martinez's playing time may still come at first base.

"I respect the manager's decision. You never know what can happen tomorrow, you have to ride with it," Martinez said. "I get worried because this is all I have. If I don't have baseball, I have nothing."

Around the horn

• Martinez wasn't the only former regular back in the Cardinals' lineup Saturday. Fowler was in there as well, batting sixth and playing right field. Fowler returned from the paternity list on Thursday, making his first start since June 27, a span of nine games.

"It feels like the World Series, I haven't played in so long," said Fowler, whose relationship with club officials has been strained in recent weeks.

Fowler went 0-for-3 with an RBI vs. the Giants.

• Rarely one to take even the usual day game after a night game off, Yadier Molina was out of the Cardinals' lineup due to a minor injury he sustained in Friday's 3-2 loss. Matheny said Molina felt a sharp pain he described as a "stinger" in his right shoulder during a swing. The injury is not considered serious.

• Molina alerted the Cardinals to a hiccup in John Gant's delivery Friday that led the club to conclude the righty was tipping pitches. The club believed Giants hitters were aware when Gant's changeup, in particular, was coming during the second inning. Two walks and a wild pitch led to a run off Gant that inning, and it was the way Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval laid off Gant's changeup to earn those free passes that caught the Cardinals' attention.

Video: STL@SF: Gant strikes out Hernandez to end the 6th

• On the disabled list since June 6, Tyler Lyons began his rehab appearance Friday night at Triple-A Memphis with a scoreless inning. Lyons has been sidelined with a left elbow strain.

• Right-hander Luke Gregerson (shoulder soreness, right knee surgery) continued his rehab with a scoreless outing at Double-A Springfield on Friday. Gregerson is yet to allow a run across three rehab appearances, the first two of which came at Triple-A Memphis.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Jose Martinez