Martinez to celebrate 26th birthday with start against Reds

A win over the Reds on Thursday would give Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals a series sweep.

CINCINNATI — St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez will celebrate his 26th birthday Thursday.

Manager Mike Matheny believes there is still plenty of untapped potential in Martinez’s arm. The key is consistency, something that has eluded Martinez at times during his four big-league seasons.

Martinez will make his 31st start of the season Thursday night as the Cardinals go for a series sweep of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“He is doing a great job taking those steps to get where he is right now,” Matheny said. “That next step is consistency of every single pitch. He’ll be sailing along, then give up a two-out hit to the pitcher and the inning kind of starts to blow up. That just comes with experience.”

Martinez (11-11, 3.57 ERA) has 205 strikeouts and 66 walks in 194 1/3 innings.

“He went from a flamethrower who tried to blow it past guys to a guy who’s making quality pitches with movement,” Matheny said. “He’s not afraid to use off-speed pitches in any count. He should be in the conversation of best pitchers in the game, in my opinion.”

St. Louis (79-72) is trying to keep its postseason hopes alive. The Cardinals trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by five games in the National League Central and are 2 1/2 games off the pace in the NL wild-card race.

Cincinnati (66-86) has hit Martinez hard at times during his career. He is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA against them in two starts this season and 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 18 appearances overall, including seven starts. However, he has pitched well in Great American Ball Park, producing a 2.93 ERA.

Reds right-hander Homer Bailey might have finally turned a corner in his comeback season after missing most of the past two years with multiple arm surgeries. Since coming back off the disabled list June 24, Bailey is 5-8 with a 6.86 ERA but has shown recent signs of getting on track. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in four of his past five starts.

In his last start Friday, a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bailey allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings with two walks and seven strikeouts. He threw 99 pitches and felt it.

“Usually at 90 pitches, I have another gear,” Bailey said. “It’s not like I’m tired out there, but I feel it. I’m still missing those preseason workouts.”

Bailey is 6-12 with a 5.75 ERA in 22 career starts against the Cardinals. He last faced them Aug. 6, when he allowed 10 runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings during a 13-4 loss at Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati is 9-9 this season against the Cardinals with one game remaining. The Reds are 5-3 against St. Louis at Great American Ball Park. Losses in the first two games of the series prevented Cincinnati from securing its first season series win over St. Louis since 2011. Cincinnati is 3-3-2 against the Cardinals in the past eight completed series of more than one game.