While ace Adam Wainwright has struggled to find his form early in the 2016 campaign, it’s really starting to look like the St. Louis Cardinals have something special in started Carlos Martinez.
The 24-year-old right hander turned a corner in his development last year and put together a very nice season with a 14-7 record and a 3.01 earned run average.
But he seems to have an even firmer grasp on how to maximize his physical talents early this season. With the help of catcher Yadier Molina, Martinez has been keeping hitters off balance and befuddled. When he’s at this best, which is happening with delightful consistency, Martinez is dominant.
Martinez has a spotless 3-0 record (tied for the National League lead in wins) with 13 hits allowed in 20 innings of work. He’s struck out more people than he’s allowed to reach by base hit, 16, and his ERA is tied for the team lead, 2.70, with Jaime Garcia.
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He used to have trouble retiring left-handed pitchers. But, so far this season, Martinez has held lefties to a .233 batting average. Righties have almost no chance against him, hitting a mere .100 with a .200 on base plus slugging percentage.
In the past, it seemed that the high-strung pitcher got too freaked out to be successful in big games. But Thursday, in a relatively pressure-packed atmosphere for this early in the season, trying to keep the Cardinals from being swept by the Chicago Cubs, he absolutely owned it.
Martinez held one of the most prolific offenses in the game to three hits and one run over seven innings of work to cool the Cubs and limit the damage.
It wasn’t exactly the seventh game of the World Series. But it was still a stepping stone game for a guy who is still on the rise.
I can see by Martinez’s demeanor on the mound that he’s gaining confidence and becoming a better player every time. It’s a long way away from the days when he’d pitch two or three good innings -- then blow up at the first sign of trouble.
He knows he has great stuff and can get people out. The only questions left are:
1) Can he stay healthy?
2) How great can he be if he keeps working to get better?
The guy deserves a ton of credit. He was sort of a flaky character when he originally emerged on the major league scene. He was better known for his selfies and his internet browsing history than he was for his pitching.
But, perhaps because of the death of his close friend and fellow prospect Oscar Taveras, Martinez made a conscious effort to grow up and not throw away his talent with carelessness.
I used to sit on the edge of my seat when he pitched, wondering what was going to happen to make it all go terribly wrong. Now he’s my favorite St. Louis pitcher to watch work.