When the St. Louis Cardinals tell you this winter that they don’t need to sign a starting pitcher — or two or three — because Carlos Martinez can just jump back into the rotation, try to remember the version of him you saw on the mound Sunday in Cincinnati.
Sadly, that’s who Martinez is these days.
Do you think for even half a minute that Martinez wouldn’t be in the rotation of this team if he was capable? The ace by default is Miles Mikolas, who was absolutely terrible over the weekend against the Cincinnati Reds.
Tied for first place and playing one of the teams in a three way race for the National League Central crown, Martinez ought to be starting Monday night. Instead, he’s a shaky option in the ninth inning — and he’s only the closer because of his resume and reputation, not because he’s the best ninth-inning option.
Right now, John Gant ought to be the closer, by all rights. There is no competition from free agent reliever Andrew Miller, however, who walked the only man he faced in a key situation Sunday. Miller is another guy who was once great but now, not so much.
If you missed the action Sunday, the Cardinals had a commanding 5-1 lead late and it appeared the Reds were out of the game. Until, with Miller’s help, the Cardinals walked in a run. Martinez came in with a three-run cushion and promptly served up a double, a single, a wild pitch and another base hit before righting himself and wiggling off the hook with the winning run at the plate.
Martinez was shelved in spring training because of shoulder weakness. That’s a scary thing because he’s seemingly had a fragile shoulder for three seasons and it’s caused his role to diminish. Once the ace apparent, now the Redbirds are holding him back, trying to get one inning from him at a time instead of handing the power pitcher the ball and asking him to go six or seven frames. Not only is it telling how little Martinez gets to pitch, it’s also telling what happens when he is on the mound.
After his meltdown Sunday, Martinez’s earned run average ballooned from 3.50 to 3.86. In this era, that might be alright for a starter. But that’s pretty darn high for a guy who comes into games, typically, with the bases empty and only three outs to record. Jordan Hicks allowed three quarters of a run less per nine innings before his elbow went boom. Fortunately for Hicks, elbows are a lot easier to repair that shoulders.
Unfortunately, I think one of two things is going to happen this winter: Either Martinez will become a permanent fixture in the bullpen with the excuse that he’s needed there until Hicks comes back around the All-Star break, or else he’s going to have offseason shoulder surgery and we’ll all hold our breath to see what he’s got left afterward. I just don’t see how things can continue this way.
I give Martinez lots of credit because he’s obviously pitching on guts without his typical arsenal. Hopefully, he can keep finding ways to wiggle off the hook. But Sunday was a scary sight for lots of reasons.