Jose Martinez was plunged into the middle of a pressure-packed situation Thursday.
Martinez, 28, who had no major-league at-bats entering the season, played left field and batted eighth in the finale of the St. Louis Cardinals’ critical series against the Cincinnati Reds. Martinez was 0-for-2 with a walk in the Cardinals’ 4-3 win.
“I’m just going to do everything I can to help the team win,” said the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Martinez, a career minor-leaguer until this season who didn’t learn of his starting assignment until he arrive at the ballpark Thursday. “You got to be mentally prepared and just try to put the ball in play, not try to do too much and try to put the barrel on the ball.”
Martinez was traded to the Cardinals from the Kansas City Royals for cash May 25. The Cardinals assigned him to Class AAA Memphis, where he batted .269 with 18 doubles, eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 87 games. The Cardinals recalled Martinez, who has been with three other organizations, Sept. 6 and he was 6-for-13 (.462) with one double in 10 games.
“He’s taking really good at-bats,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That was the reports that we had from Memphis, too, that the guy would just take a good at-bat for you at any time. He seems to be especially effective against the lefties, but also is the kind of guy who can face right-handers. He’s got a real nice idea of what he wants to do at the plate.”
Martinez, a native of La Guaira, Vargas, in Venezuela, racked up 887 games and 3,242 minor-league at-bats before he collected his first major-league hit, a single against Ben Rowen, on Sept. 8 against Milwaukee at Busch Stadium.
“He’s persevered and continues to try and get better and figure out a way to make it happen,” Matheny said. “Overall, he’s just gone about his business the right way. He’s had some success at the lower levels, which leads you to believe that he can translate that here. So far, he’s done a nice job when he gets the opportunity.”
Perhaps because of his vast experience in the minor, Martinez is rather unflappable.
“I hope I can still be like that (here),” Martinez said. “You don’t know what can happen out there on the field. I hope I can do well and hope I can concentrate enough for however long the manager needs me. I’m going to trust in myself.
“It gives me more confidence that (Matheny) gave me an opportunity like this, when the season is on the line and every game counts. I’ll be prepared.”
Moss to bench
Martinez’s start sent slumping Brandon Moss to the bench, making him available in a pinch-hitting situation. Moss began Wednesday in a 7-for-95 slump (.074) since Aug. 27. In September, he is 6-for-80 (.075) with two home runs and four RBIs.
“One day at a time. He needed to flush,” Matheny said, noting that Moss didn’t even participate in batting practice. “We see so many things that look so close. He’s a guy that can carry this club. Not that we want to put it on anybody’s shoulders, but he can do it. ... But right now, he needs a breather to try to get things right.”
Matheny said Moss, whose upbeat personality never seems to take a break, began to show the frustrations of his extended skid after the Cardinals’ 2-1 loss Wednesday.
“You could see it,” Matheny said. “I followed Brandon up the tunnel a little bit after I brought him out of the game and you could see he was wearing it hard. We’ll let him get into a better place. Get some work if he wants it or stay away from a bat all together until we need him late in the game. He’s still going to be a great option for us. Everybody knows what he can do.”
Waiting for word
Matheny said he was waiting to hear an update from the medical team about the condition of left fielder Matt Holliday.
Holliday did not hit on the field again Thursday and still is being bothered by his right thumb that was broken Aug. 11 when he was hit by a pitch by the Chicago Cubs’ Mike Montgomery.
With just three regular-season games remaining after Thursday, time is running out for Holliday, 36, to make an impact, and Matheny even said that the Cardinals must soon “fish or cut bait.”
If the Cardinals finish the season tied with the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants for the second National League wild-card spot, a tiebreaker will be played Monday at Busch Stadium at a time to be determined.
Tiebreaker tickets start at $5 apiece and will go on sale at noon Friday. They will be available at cardinals.com, calling (314) 345-9000 and at the stadium ticket windows on 8th Street.
The winner of the tiebreaker – which is considered a regular-season game and not part of the postseason – will advance to the NL wild-card game Wednesday.
Stadium gates will open 1 1/2 half hours prior to first pitch Monday. The game will be televised by ESPN and broadcast on KMOX-AM 1120.
The Cardinals have homefield advantage for the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head record against the Giants (4-3) and because they would have a better division record than the Mets. The Cardinals and Mets split their season series 3-3.