When it comes to deciding which pitcher will secure the last slot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation, it seems a popular sentiment among fans is that the Redbirds should award the role to Carlos Martinez not because he's pitched the best, not for contractual reasons nor even for strategic reasons.
They argue the Cardinals should give Martinez the job because -- if they don't -- it might hurt his feelings so profoundly that he may never recover.
This is the big boy league. The name of the game is competition. This isn't little league baseball where everybody gets a turn. There is no room for players who don't have mental resilience.
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If a guy isn't mentally tough enough to handle this sort of setback, are we really supposed to believe that he will be able to handle trying to get out of a first and third with nobody out jam in front of 40,000 people?
Saying Martinez is psychologically fragile should be the deciding factor in limiting his exposure, not the opposite. Think of Rick Ankiel who was one of the most talented pitching prospects the Cardinals have ever drafted. He had every bit of the electric stuff Martinez has now. But he wasn't confident in his ability to throw the ball over the plate, much less get hitters out. Manager Tony La Russa kept throwing Ankiel in the fire and he absolutely imploded. All the minor league rehab they could give Ankiel -- plus long stretches away from the game to nurse injuries real and not so real -- couldn't rebuild what was destroyed in the young lefty. Ankiel decided to retire as he should have been entering his prime, potentially walking away from millions because he couldn't face the game anymore. He later tried to reinvent himself as an outfielder and, as much as he struggled at times, he'd never even consider going back to pitching.
I don't get the impatience that makes people believe that Martinez is being wasted because he isn't declared to be ready for the MLB rotation at the age of 23.
The Dodgers had a guy who had problems with his consistency that bounced back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation for the first SEVEN years of his career. He made 78 appearances from out the bullpen during that stretch and he went on to win an MVP award, three Cy Young Awards and six All-Star Game selections. His name: Sandy Koufax.
It just goes to prove that sometimes it pays off to take your time with pitchers instead of pushing them too hard.
Martinez has the stuff to be great. What he doesn't have is consistency. In his brief MLB career he's had trouble pitching well beyond four innings. And that's not good enough for a starter. Putting him in the bullpen would five Martinez a chance to have success a spoonful at a time. It will build his confidence that he can get major league hitters out and, as he develops strength and stamina, he will learn how to have success without trying to throw every pitch at 102 mph.
This is really a perfect situation for the young hurler.
The Cardinals weren't going to let a young kid with a developing arm make 35 starts and throw 230 innings even if he was phenomenal. So let Garcia start the season as the fifth starter and see if he can stay healthy. If Garcia blows up after 10 games, Martinez will get a shot. If Garcia stays healthy and wins 12-14 games, that's great for the 2015 Cardinals. But St. Louis probably won't pick up his expensive option -- or maybe it won't be able to re-sign John Lackey. Either way, worst case scenario for Martinez, there will be a slot for him to graduate to full-time starter in 2016.
Ultimately, it's best for Martinez to get a rotation job because he earned it. That's where true confidence and mental toughness is born.