Carlos Martinez is still trying to find a happy medium.
Martinez made his first spring start Friday and was pleased with the steps he made in that direction as the St. Louis Cardinals nipped Atlanta 4-3 in a Grapefruit League game.
The emotional Martinez allowed one run on three hits in two innings and struck out two, touching 99 mph on the gun. Nineteen of Martinez’s 26 pitches were strikes in his first action in a game since last September when he was shut down with shoulder tightness.
“I feel pretty good,” the 24-year-old Martinez said through teammate and interpreter Brayan Pena. “I’ve been waiting for this moment in the offseason. I’ve been working very hard to come back. Today was a very exciting day. Thank God, everything went my way.”
The Cardinals understand that Martinez is fueled by his excitement about competing. Occasionally, however, he has been overly exuberant, and it detracts from his performance.
“That’s the way I like to pitch,” Martinez said. “That’s the way I like to go about my business. (But) at the same time, I’m saying I need to control it a little bit. I’m working on that, but I’m just trying to go out there and have fun and enjoy my game. It’s going to be a little bit hard for me to take that away myself. That’s the way I like to pitch.
“Definitely. That’s part of my game plan. That’s part of what keeps me going. I really need that mental push. That excitement really helps me. ... Sometimes I get too excited. Sometimes I get over-excited, and that’s not good, either. I have to find that fine balance in between the two.”
Martinez spent the winter in Jupiter, strengthening his shoulder and participating in a team-led throwing program. He said in January that everything was progressing well, but still, he acknowledged concerns about how the shoulder would respond Friday.
“At the beginning, I was a little afraid,” Martinez said. “But I trust the people who work with me to get my strength back. The more I was throwing, the stronger I was feeling. But I didn’t want to push it. I wanted to continue to believe in the procress, and that was exactly what I did. I feel very good right now and I’m very happy about my recovery.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Martinez looked “great.”
“The ball was jumping, the slider was sharp,” said Matheny, who isn’t quite ready to slot Martinez into an assignment every five days. “We’ll see how he feels after this to make sure everything goes well. Then we’ll re-evaluate.”
Having Yadier Molina behind the plate put Martinez in comfort mode.
“I was very happy to see him catching because he knows me better than anybody else,” Martinez said. “Today was my first start. Who better than him (to catch), the guy that really knows exactly what I do? I feel very good with Yadier Molina behind the plate because he’s a veteran guy. He forces me to be better, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
Minor-league outfielder Marneuris Sierra was one of the stars Friday with a dazzling throw to nail a runner, a bunt single and an RBI single that scored the game-winning run.
“I watched him the last time he was here and I like watching him,” Matheny said. “Just his movements, his actions. I didn’t really check with the guys in the minor-league system, but they felt like he was ready. Just throw him in there and see what happens. Obviously, a good throw, then the big hits, the bunt. It’s what we call a live body. Fun to watch.”
Hitting the road
Matheny will be on the bus for the split-squad game at noon Saturday against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, located 33 miles north of Jupiter.
“I’m a road warrior. (I take) all the trips,” Matheny said. “It’s important for the guys. It’s hard for them to bark about being on the road trip if I’m there.”
It’s not that Matheny prefers the bus rides. That certainly wasn’t the case as a player.
“I had no trouble staying home,” he said. “This is a different job description.”
Bunting for a base
Matt Adams foiled the Braves’ dramatic shift with a bunt single in the first inning.
“Beautiful,” Matheny said. “I was hoping he would do it the next time. If they’re going to give you a base hit, take it. Man, two-hit days are hard to come by. He has to have conviction about it. If he’s doing it just to appease us, I don’t think he’s going to do it very well.”
Adams lined out to deep center in his next at-bat and Matheny said he will consider it to be a homer.
“That ball hit to center was smashed,” Matheny said. “I know sometime I’m going to have to listen to how many home runs we haven’t hit. I’m counting that.”
The Cardinals stole six more bases, in seven attempts, Friday. They have 19 stolen bases in nine games.
“Runnin’ Redbirds, right?” Matheny said. “Let’s keep close track of who’s doing all that (running). Just about every spring, we bring up these young blazers. There’s a whole bunch of Cardinal fans that get so excited every time they see all those stolen bases. So do I. I love it.”
Outfield prospect Charilie Tilson leads the team with five stolen bases. Tilson played last season at Class AA Springfield. Stephen Piscotty has three steals, while Dean Anna and Jacob Wilson have two apiece.