Few hitters in baseball are hotter than Jose Martinez over the last nine games.
The San Diego Padres found out the hard way Monday night when Martinez went 3 for 4 and homered for the fifth time in five games, a two-run blast that gave the St. Louis Cardinals the lead for good in a 5-2 verdict.
It’s safe to say that San Diego will work carefully to Martinez Tuesday night at Busch Stadium when the teams meet in the middle game of their three-game series.
Dating back to June 2, Martinez is 17 of 32, a .531 average. He has five homers and 11 RBIs, along with an OPS of nearly 1.700.
“When I swing at good pitches and go deep into the count, you’re going to see the ball come off the bat,” Martinez said to FS Midwest after Monday night’s game. “Every once in a while, you’re going to make an out, but I’m feeling good right now.”
And why shouldn’t he?
The guy who was dismissed by three big league organizations and was playing in the Frontier League as late as 2014 is currently batting .327 with 10 homers and 42 RBI. He’s on a pace to drive in more than 100 runs and owns a .905 OPS for the season.
While Martinez is a project defensively at first base, his bat more than offsets his occasional defensive gaffes.
“Jose has been so hot all season long,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s been impressive to watch.”
So has the pitching of Miles Mikolas (7-1, 2.27), who has pitched at an All-Star level. Mikolas cruised to a 4-1 win Thursday over Miami, permitting just one unearned run over seven innings on three hits and a walk. He whiffed five.
The former Padre farmhand will try for his second win in just over a month against his old team. He earned a 2-1 victory on May 10 at Petco Park, permitting only five hits and a run over 6 2/3 innings with a walk and four strikeouts.
San Diego (31-37) will counter with its bullpen.
Manager Andy Green will start left-hander Matt Strahm (1-2, 3.07) for the second time in a week with four or five other arms ready to back him up. With rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi on the 10-day DL, the Padres’ lack of MLB-ready starting pitching has led to the bullpen acting as their de facto fifth starter.
Strahm last pitched on Wednesday against Atlanta, going the first 2 1/3 innings in a 3-1 San Diego win and allowing a Freddie Freeman homer while fanning two. He tossed a scoreless inning in his only career outing against the Cardinals (36-28).
Green will at least have the luxury of a rested bullpen after needing just two pitchers to cover Monday night’s 24 outs. That means if he can tag-team his way into the late innings with a lead, St. Louis will probably have to deal with lefty Brad Hand, who has become one of baseball’s top closers with 19 saves in 21 chances.
“It’s a lot of weapons, a lot of different choices,” Green said of his deep bullpen. “How long can you maintain it? We’ll wait and see.”