Martinez's initial reaction to tonight's start? Yawn (but he brightened up)
JUN 16, 2014 1:09p ET
ST. LOUIS -- When Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez first learned he would be starting against the Mets on Monday night, he shrugged.
Like, "Whatever, dude, I'm good."
Seriously? The 22-year-old finally was being given his first chance to start this season and "that's fine" is all the excitement he could muster. Mike Matheny would have none of that attitude.
So the Cardinals' manager kept Martinez in his office and said he was granting a do-over.
"I'm going to tell you all over again and you're going to give me a different answer," Matheny said.
Turned out, Martinez was as excited for the opportunity as you'd expect him to be but was trying to play the part of Mr. Big Leaguer.
"Just like all these guys, they want to put up this bravado," Matheny said. "You give me whatever and I'll take care of it."
On the second go-round, Martinez could not stifle a wide smile and told Matheny that indeed, he was fired up for his chance to meet the Mets. He even came over and embraced his manager at the end of their conversation. "He's a hugger, a lot like Waino," Matheny said. "I don't hold him back on that."
Waino, of course, is Adam Wainwright, the right-hander who was scheduled to start Monday night. The club -- wisely -- is skipping Wainwright's turn to allow more time for a spot of tendinitis in his right elbow to dissipate. The hope is Wainwright will be ready to go Saturday.
Martinez, ironically, is getting his chance to start because of struggles he's endured out of the bullpen. When the Cardinals needed a starter to step in earlier this season, they stayed away from Martinez in large part because they did not want to take him out of his eighth-inning job and disrupt the back of their bullpen. But Martinez encountered enough trouble in that spot that Matheny has turned it over to Pat Neshek, leaving Martinez without a defined role for the past few weeks.
Martinez pitched well enough in spring training to win a spot in the rotation, but after watching him dominate in the late innings last postseason the club felt he would be more valuable in the eighth inning. But before the team left Florida, Matheny told Martinez to keep working and he would get a chance to start.
With Wainwright needing a break, it is Martinez's time.
"It's part of keeping to our word," Matheny said. "We've had other opportunities that didn't seem quite right. The role he was filling in the bullpen didn't allow us the freedom to bounce him into a start. He still has a big role for us in the bullpen, but this is an opportunity that is also a necessity. We need somebody to step up and take this start for Adam. I think Carlos can do a good job with it."
This will not be quite like a regular start, though. Because he has not been stretched out, Martinez will be limited to 60 pitches. He threw a season-high 47 pitches June 1 and has worked only four innings (48 pitches) since. Unless he turns in an outing like Jordan Zimmermann did against the Cardinals on Friday night (76 pitches, eight innings), Matheny will be turning to his bullpen sometime around the fifth inning. The club called up lefty Nick Greenwood from Memphis to bolster the relief crew, though the bullpen is well rested.
Given Martinez's ups and downs in his first full season in the majors, he might make it through five innings on his prescribed pitch count or he might not get through two. He has allowed only two of 20 inherited runners to score â the best rate in the majors for relievers who have worked at least 30 innings -- but his ERA is 4.67. He has served only two homers in 34 2/3 innings but is allowing eight hits and 3.6 walks per nine innings.
The Cardinals haven't been able put a finger on the root of his inconsistencies. Earlier, they thought he might not be fully warmed up when he entered a game, so he tweaked his warm-up routine. In his most recent outing, last Wednesday at Tampa Bay, he flat-out dominated the first four batters. He struck out three and left them shaking their head on the way back to the dugout. But then he allowed a check-swing, infield single and his outing quickly went sour. "He just didn't find that rhythm out of the stretch," Matheny said after the game.
No one believes his stuff is the issue. His fastball is averaging 97.1 mph, the hardest among NL relievers, and he can call on so many secondary pitches he hasn't figured out which ones to rely on.
"His last couple of outings, we've seen more of his changeup, and it wasn't necessarily because his role was different," Matheny said. "He's just trying to find that off-speed pitch to complement his fastball. It was the slider when he first came up, and we've seen the curveball. It's really kind of odd that his stuff is that good that you're able to experiment and figure out those pitches at the big-league level."
Well, he hasn't quite figured out everything, of course. Because of his pitch count, he isn't likely to be afforded much an opportunity to work through many problems against the Mets, who had lost eight of nine before winning a weekend series against the Padres. His goal will be the same as when he comes out of the bullpen: get outs as quickly as possible.
"I don't see him going about that any differently, realizing that he has to go out and make good pitches or they're going to come get me," Matheny said.
While Martinez's confidence has appeared shaken at times, he retains a swagger on the mound that is hard to miss when things are right.
"There's not an arrogance. It's just a genuine confidence," Matheny said. "'You guys give me a chance, you're going to see (what I can do).' That's part of the beauty of Carlos' makeup. He's going to be excited."
Even if he didn't initially show it.