I never had any doubts about the physical abilities of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez.
It was the 23-year-old hurler’s poise and maturity that made me worried that he wasn’t quite ready for the pressure of pitching every five days in a big league starting rotation.
But I have to admit that, through the first month of the 2015 season, I’m impressed with how far he’s come.
He made a few appearances in the majors over the past two seasons and, in that time, Martinez has been brilliant in short bursts. But it always seemed that he would fold at the first sign of trouble. He’d pitch two good innings and then he’d give up a lead-off hit or walk and come unraveled. The next thing we knew, there was a crooked number on the scoreboard.
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When Martinez got into trouble he’d start to nibble instead of aggressively attacking hitters. Then the pitch count would climb and a promising beginning would devolve into a 3 1/3-inning, four-run outing.
This season, Martinez not only has a perfect 3-0 record and a sparkling 1.73 ERA. He has allowed only17 hits in 26 innings and has struck out 24 while walking 10. And he’s pitched six or more innings in each of his starts.
Martinez entered the 2015 season with 1.41 walks and hits per inning pitched. This season he has allowed 1.04.
While the Philadelphia Philles aren’t currently a very good team, they were an interesting test for Martinez Wednesday night because the young hurler had trouble in his first two seasons with lefty hitters. Philadelphia had five of them in the starting lineup.
Martinez allowed lefties to hit .297 against him last year with a .387 on base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage. On Wednesday he kept the Phillies contained with the exception of a solo home run to Ryan Howard. And St. Louis right fielder Jason Heyward said after the game that, had he not poorly timed his jump, he would have caught that ball at the wall.
More importantly, Martinez quickly steadied after surrendering the homer. He allowed the Cardinals to stay close with two runs allowed in six frames. In the bottom of the fifth, the offense responded with four runs and St. Louis eventually won the game 5-2.
Lefties are hitting only .220 against Martinez overall.
I was very concerned about Martinez’s ability to stay focused after the death of his close friend, Oscar Taveras. He was an emotional wreck after the car crash that claimed Taveras’ life just after St. Louis was eliminated from the post season last year. That sort of loss is especially tough for a young person to carry around. But Martinez seems to have taken a lesson from the tragedy, becoming a more serious person and realizing how fleeting opportunity and talent can be.
I still think the Cardinals are going to have issues later in the season in the best of circumstances because I don’t think they’re going to let young hurlers Martinez and Michael Wacha throw anything close to 200 innings.
But if Martinez can’t keep up the better than expected work, it sure appears that the Cardianls were wise to refuse to give him up in trade, instead sending Shelby Miller to Atlanta in the Heyward deal.