St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez Performing Like an Ace


As the 2015 season began, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez’s major-league career was at a bit of a crossroads. The Cardinals had cast a vote of faith in Martinez during the offseason by trading starter Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Jason Heyward, creating a potential rotation opening for Martinez. Yet, after appearing in 70 of his first 78 major-league games out of the bullpen, it was debatable whether Martinez would be able to make the full-time transition to starting.

Martinez hadn’t inspired an exceptional amount of confidence over his first two seasons in the big leagues. Despite touching speeds as high as 101.3 MPH with his fastball and sitting between 96 and 97 MPH, Martinez struggled with consistency, posting a 4.28 ERA and allowing plenty of solid contact (.282 opponent batting average in 2013, .266 in 2014) during that period of time.

In his initial stint as a starter, Martinez didn’t particularly fare well. Though he allowed one earned run or fewer in three of his seven starts, Martinez was able to go longer than five innings just once. He became less effective as the summer wore on, and ultimately Martinez ended up going 2-1 with a 4.45 ERA, a .294 opponent batting average, and a 1.64 WHIP over his seven starts.

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This year, Martinez needed to improve that he could be a true pitcher rather than just a “thrower” with a limited repertoire and unimpressive stamina. He didn’t quite do that during the early part of spring training, as he gave up five earned runs in 3.1 innings during a March 15 start against the Minnesota Twins, which put him behind lefthanders Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia in the battle for the fifth starter spot. Garcia had all but locked up the job as spring training came to a close, which likely would have sent Martinez back to the bullpen for a third straight season, but after the oft-injured Garcia was sidelined with a shoulder injury just days before the beginning of the regular season, Martinez was able to regain his rotation spot, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Even after an early May slump in which Martinez gave up seven earned runs in two straight starts and strained the bullpen, going just 3.2 innings in his May 4 start and 5.1 on May 9, Martinez’s numbers stack up with the best starters in the National League. As we move into the middle part of June, Martinez has the pedigree to be an All-Star, as he’s near the top of the leaderboard among National League qualifiers in several categories, ranking 11th in ERA, 12th in opponent batting average, and is tied for fourth in wins.

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Other than his periodic inconsistency, the biggest concern surrounding the 23-year-old as a starter has been his constant struggle to get deep into games. Martinez has eased those concerns in recent weeks, however, as he has gone more than six innings in his past five straight starts and went seven innings in three straight before his Wednesday afternoon start in Colorado. He’d had just one other seven-inning outing as a big-league starter prior to that streak, which came in an April 24 shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Now with Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn on the shelf, the pressure is firmly on Martinez. As he’s in the midst of the most successful stretch of his major-league career, though, Martinez has the opportunity to establish himself as an All-Star and a borderline ace.

With Michael Wacha having started twice the games that Martinez has in the majors and therefore closer to reaching his prime, he may be a better candidate to serve as the “ace” of the rotation for the team with the best record in baseball. With that said, Martinez has vastly exceeded expectations after backing into the fifth starter role to begin the season, and he now looks like he has a great chance to live up to the front-of-the-rotation starter billing that was placed upon him as he was advancing through the Cardinals’ system.

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