St. Louis rotation questions revolve around Carlos Martinez
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — As far as the St. Louis Cardinals are concerned, how Carlos Martinez feels on days he’s not throwing may be as important has how well he performs on the mound.
A healthy Martinez is likely the final piece in the Cardinals’ starting rotation. A Martinez whose shoulder, like last year, doesn’t recover quickly from starts could reprise his role as the Cardinals’ closer.
“We’re looking for consistency in how he’s doing, how he’s recovering,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “That a big thing for Carlos, making sure the strength is there.”
Shoulder weakness last spring following off-season surgery prompted the Cardinals to shift Martinez to the bullpen. He eventually replaced the injured Jordan Hicks as Shildt’s closer, saving 24 games.
“This time last year he wasn’t in as good a spot from a throwing standpoint and being able to compete. But he’s really done everything he needs to do to set himself up for success, to have that opportunity to compete as a starter,” Shildt said.
An All-Star as a starter in 2015 and 2017, Martinez says he “always” considers himself a starting pitcher.
“I feel stronger,” said Martinez, who lost 15 pounds during the offseason while conditioning with greater focus. “The day after I throw I don’t feel tired.”
Baring unforeseen circumstances, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright enter the spring as near certainties in the Cardinals’ rotation. Martinez leads a group that includes newly signed Korean import Kwang-Hyun Kim, former top prospect Alex Reyes and current prospect Daniel Ponce de Leon as candidates for that final rotation spot.
All of the rotation contestants — in fact every pitcher and catcher scheduled to report to Cardinals camp — did so, taking the field Wednesday for their first scheduled workout in temperatures that exceeded 80 degrees.
Choosing the fifth starter is one of several major questions the defending Central Division-champion Cardinals must address during the coming weeks. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak rattled off a few others, including identifying a closer; Hicks, who the Cardinals transferred to the 60-day injured list on Wednesday, is on schedule in his recovery from elbow ligament replacement surgery and isn’t expected to be available until midseason. St. Louis must determine a starting outfield, choose a cleanup hitter, and select a lead-off hitter.
“I think when you get to camp it’s always more fun because you can now start to address some of these questions, whereas in the offseason it’s something where all we do is talk about it,” Mozeliak said.
Signing Kim was the Cardinals’ most notable offseason addition. The loss of cleanup-hitting left fielder Marcel Ozuna to free agency and Jose Martinez via trade created a void in the middle of the Cards’ lineup that Mozeliak, at least for the moment, intends to fill internally.
“We certainly are keeping our eyes open,” Mozeliak said. “If something makes sense for us in the near future we’ll pursue it.”
NOTEWORTHY: St. Louis agreed to terms with free agent utility infielder Brad Miller, the club announce on Wednesday. Miller hit .260 with 13 homers and 25 RBIs in 79 games last year split between Cleveland and Philadelphia.