Back in March, there were people who didn’t even believe Carlos Martinez could be an effective 5th starter for the St. Louis Cardinals. Questions came in about his maturity and emotion on the mound. Some questioned his ability to go deep into games. Some just liked Marco Gonzales better. Flash forward a few months and “El Gallo” has blazed a trail through the National League. He hasn’t just looked like a legit starter but a probable ace down the road. However, lately, the soon to be 24 year old righthander has looked a bit more human. Is this rookie starter fatigue, hitters coming around to him, or just some rusty aftershocks of an unbelievable 2/3 portion of the season?
Let’s slow down and remember the kid is only 23 years old. He’s young, fiery and has enough life in his arm for two pitchers in Milwaukee. Downfall is always a suspect in a young man’s rookie season and I am talking rookie season because 2015 is the entry campaign for Martinez’s real job. A starter for the best team in baseball.
The team took precaution and rested him against The Nationals, citing a sore back even though an innings precaution was the likely idea. Coming into Friday’s start against Pittsburgh, Martinez had 154.2 innings, a season high for any stop in the young man’s career. A wall was going to be struck at some point.
After compiling earned run averages of 2.18 and 2.03 in June and July, Martinez’s ERA for August was 4.15. The trend started on July 30th when Martinez was beat up for 5 earned runs and 10 hits against Colorado. After a decent 5 inning effort against the Reds, Martinez threw a gem against Pittsburgh. Eight innings, 3 earned runs and eight strikeouts. Miami then reached him for 4 earned runs before Carlos fired consecutive quality starts against San Diego and Arizona. Friday, the Pirates got to him for four earned runs in five innings. That’s six starts with rough ones included. This followed a stretch where Martinez didn’t allow more than 3 earned runs in 13 consecutive starts. Hitters are reaching him for a .292 average since the All Star break and his ERA is 3.80 during that time.
When it comes to pitch usage differences, Martinez has leaned more on his changeup and slider in the past month over his sinker, which is a world renowned deadly pitch. Friday, his fastball had zip but everything else was flat.
So, is there reason to be worried about Martinez? Is the back an issue? Is rest an issue? Was a rhythm disrupted with the rest or is Martinez just having a rough patch?
I don’t think there’s reason to worry too much about the kid. He’s still 13-7 with a 3.07 ERA to go with a 2.5-1 strikeouts to walks ratio. His WHIP is respectable and he still has an ability to pitch well with runners on base and in scoring position. A “human” stretch may force certain scribes to revisit old themes and fans to question the durability of the young man but I still see a fiery finish to the season.
Martinez carries loads of emotion, willpower and guile to the hill every start. He won’t let it weigh him down. He’ll pop back out on the mound for his start against The Cubs on Wednesday for the homestand finale with something to prove. Here’s something to remember. Martinez has pitched at least five innings in a start since May 9th. Expect him to respond. This is not your normal young pitcher. Martinez is foolishly talented and will be ready, on regular rest, on Wednesday. It’s not time to overthink his durability or stature.
The rest means the Cardinals are thinking of him for a playoff rotation spot and that’s the right move. As easy as it is to once again send Martinez to the bullpen for the third straight time, it’s important to remember the kid’s 2.68 ERA and .228 batting average against on the road. That shouldn’t be forgotten.
Yes, Martinez has looked rougher as of late, but that doesn’t mean September will end with a Martinez fade. He had a rough May as well(4.19 ERA) and he bounced back. Sometimes, the kid just needs to breathe and relax in remembering this is a six month season and it’s a lot different when you only pitch once every five days. 2015 is still a class in session for Martinez. Some bumps were expected but the course is still set.
Carlos Martinez will ride high again…after he is finished building the largest tower of cups in the dugout this weekend.