Makeup of Cardinals’ pitching staff will largely depend on Martínez’s durability

Carlos Martínez pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2020, collecting 24 saves.
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JUPITER, Fla. — As far as the St. Louis Cardinals are concerned, how Carlos Martínez feels on days he’s not throwing may be as important as how well he performs on the mound.

A healthy Martinez is likely the final piece in the Cardinals’ starting rotation. A Martínez whose shoulder, like last year, doesn’t recover quickly from starts could reprise his role as the Cardinals’ closer.

“We’re looking for consistency in how he’s doing, how he’s recovering,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “That a big thing for Carlos, making sure the strength is there.”

Shoulder weakness last spring following off-season surgery prompted the Cardinals to shift Martínez to the bullpen. He eventually replaced the injured Jordan Hicks as Shildt’s closer, saving 24 games.

“This time last year, he wasn’t in as good a spot from a throwing standpoint and being able to compete. But he’s really done everything he needs to do to set himself up for success, to have that opportunity to compete as a starter,” Shildt said.

An All-Star as a starter in 2015 and 2017, Martínez says he “always” considers himself a starting pitcher.

“I feel stronger,” said Martínez, who lost 15 pounds during the offseason while conditioning with greater focus. “The day after I throw, I don’t feel tired.”

Baring unforeseen circumstances, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright enter the spring as near certainties in the Cardinals’ rotation. Martínez leads a group that includes newly signed Korean import Kwang-Hyun Kim, former top prospect Alex Reyes and third-year right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon as candidates for that final rotation spot.

All of the rotation contestants scheduled to report to Cardinals camp — in fact every pitcher and catcher — did so, taking the field Wednesday for their first scheduled workout in temperatures that exceeded 80 degrees.

Choosing the fifth starter is one of several major questions the defending Central Division-champion Cardinals must address during the coming weeks. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak rattled off a few others, including identifying a closer; Hicks, who the Cardinals transferred to the 60-day injured list on Wednesday, is on schedule in his recovery from elbow ligament replacement surgery and isn’t expected to be available until midseason. St. Louis must determine a starting outfield, choose a cleanup hitter, and select a leadoff hitter.

“I think when you get to camp, it’s always more fun because you can now start to address some of these questions, whereas in the offseason it’s something where all we do is talk about it,” Mozeliak said.

Signing Kim was the Cardinals’ most notable offseason addition. The loss of cleanup-hitting left fielder Marcel Ozuna to free agency and José Martínez via trade created a void in the middle of the Cards’ lineup that Mozeliak, at least for the moment, intends to fill internally.

“We certainly are keeping our eyes open,” Mozeliak said. “If something makes sense for us in the near future, we’ll pursue it.”

NOTEWORTHY: St. Louis agreed to terms with free agent utility infielder Brad Miller, the club announced on Wednesday. Miller hit .260 with 13 homers and 25 RBIs in 79 games last year split between Cleveland and Philadelphia.