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Martinez's hot bat gives Cards decisions to mull

St. Louis could get 'creative' to find at-bats for slugger, who drove in 3 Sunday
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- It wasn't difficult to see the force pushing Matt Carpenter around the infield, the Cardinals' ostensible first baseman starting instead at third, then zigzagging over to second.

It was the same force sending him scampering around the bases: Jose Martinez's bat.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- It wasn't difficult to see the force pushing Matt Carpenter around the infield, the Cardinals' ostensible first baseman starting instead at third, then zigzagging over to second.

It was the same force sending him scampering around the bases: Jose Martinez's bat.

View Full Game Coverage

In what's becoming an annual spring thing for Martinez, the lanky slugger is once again swinging his way in from the periphery of the Cards' plans. The idea of planting Carpenter at first looked less and less viable by the end of St. Louis' 10-0 rout of the Nationals on Sunday, when Martinez drove in three runs.

"We're going to have to be creative with everybody," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of finding Martinez at-bats. "If he keeps hitting, he's going to play."

Each day, Martinez reduces doubt that he will. The former Triple-A batting champion went on to hit .309/.386/.518 over 106 Major League games in 2017. He's up to .293/.341/.634 this spring after Sunday, when he homered and added a two-run double.

Video: WSH@STL: J.Martinez drives in two with a double

"I think we're going to have to find a way to get him in the lineup," Carpenter said. "I think it's possible with all the movement."

Carpenter is no stranger to rotating around defensively. He's logged full seasons at second, third and first. But the plan this spring -- written in pencil -- was for him to see the majority of time at first, given his age (32) and concerns over his back and shoulder.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

With Jedd Gyorko providing power and glove at third and newly acquired Marcell Ozuna sliding Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler each over a spot in the outfield, Martinez is something of an odd man out on a National League team without the luxury of the designated hitter.

"Carp is going to have to balance. Other guys are going to have to balance, too, at times," Matheny said. "I still see them all as everyday players, but I'm going into this thing thinking about 162 games."

The chunk of Martinez's at-bats could come at the expense of second baseman Kolten Wong, the Cards' only regular who hits exclusively left-handed besides Carpenter. Wong was shielded somewhat against lefties last season, but held his own (.273/.360/.342) when allowed to face them.

Martinez crushed southpaws in a small sample, posting a .407/.493/.847 slash line in 69 plate appearances.

"It could be a situation where Jedd plays five out of seven days, Kolten plays five out of seven days and I rotate," Carpenter said. "There is a way to get Jose in there five out of seven days, too."

Injury update
Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning in his return from an oblique strain that sidelined the reliever for nearly two weeks. It was Gregerson's second appearance of the spring.

"Physically, I feel good. My arm feels healthy," Gregerson said. "Ball was moving. Can't ask for much more than that."

Stretching out in secret
The Cardinals plan to shield some members of their starting rotation from Grapefruit League play over the last 10 days of spring, preferring instead to stretch them out in Minor League games on the back fields.

St. Louis plays three of its final eight exhibition games against the Mets, the same team it opens the regular season against on March 29. The Cards don't want to surrender any kind of competitive advantage by letting Mets hitters see the same arms twice in such a short time, even if only one of the three starters (Adam Wainwright) would face the Mets both times around under the rotation's current alignment.

Still, they're not taking any chances. When the club let Opening Day starter Carlos Martinez stretch out to 100 pitches on Sunday, he did so in a Minor League game on the back fields, not against the Nationals in the main stadium. Martinez allowed six runs over six innings.

Ring ceremony
Thirty-six members of the Memphis Redbirds' roster and field staff who won the 2017 Pacific Coast League championship were presented their rings Sunday prior to the game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Sixty-two players played for Memphis last season, including 27 who appeared at the big league level.

Tweet from @memphisredbirds: The #PCLChamps were honored at @Cardinals Spring Training today!Big-time recognition for the best team in franchise history!The champs return to @AutoZone_Park on April 10! pic.twitter.com/PlHadbKLUB

Up next
After the final off-day of the spring Monday, the Cardinals return to Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Tuesday for the first of those three games against the Mets at 1:05 p.m. ET. With Gregerson healthy again, look for Matheny to beta test some late-inning alignments for possible use during the regular season. Listen to the game on Gameday Audio.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Jose Martinez