Are the St. Louis Cardinals Utilizing Carlos Martinez the Right Way?

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UPDATE: 12:50 PM on 7/25: Via Derrick Goold, the Cardinals have optioned Martinez to Triple-A Memphis, recalling LHP Marc Rzepczynski. This poses the question: Is “Scrabble” up to contribute for the rest of the season, or is he up to showcase his arm one more time at the big-league level for potential suitors? We will soon find out.

Carlos Martinez‘s “role” for the St. Louis Cardinals. What is it? Does he even have one?

Thus, I took to Twitter to ask the expert, Cardinals’ beat writer, Derrick Goold, and this is what he had to say:

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Given Goold’s response, the latest rumors linking Martinez to Alexei Ramirez (this has to be a bogus rumor by the way), and the way he has been used since his latest call-up, I decided to delve deeper into the topic. Before I get into possible roles for Martinez, I will give a brief run-down of his season so far.

First Stint in St. Louis

Martinez was up earlier this year in May and had what seemed to be a middle-relief role. However, he was not designated to a specific inning and was used sparingly–making just seven appearances for a total of eight innings pitched. He was basically making one appearance every four days. During that span, he had a 4.50 earned-run average while tallying nine strike outs to just three walks.

His ERA was elevated mainly because of one bad outing against Colorado in which he allowed three hits, one walk, and three earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Of his seven appearances, he did not allow a run in five of them. Surprisingly for a flamethrower, he allowed 14 ground balls compared to just seven fly balls. He did not allow a home run during this stint.

Back to Triple-A Memphis

Due to his sparse use out of the big league ‘pen, the front office decided to send him down–looking to “stretch him out” so that he could possibly fill the void at the end of the rotation left by injuries and a suddenly ineffective Tyler Lyons.

From May 28th through July 5th, Martinez made eight starts in Triple-A and worked his way up to where he was averaging over 90 pitches each outing. Thus, it is safe to say that he was successfully “stretched out.” He may not have developed the efficiency the team had hoped–only pitching more than seven innings once (a gem against the Iowa Cubs), but he was stretched out nonetheless. During this stint with the Redbirds, he went 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA. In 41 innings pitched, he recorded 35 strike outs while walking 16 batters. In those 41 innings, he allowed just 1 home run and batters were hitting .226 against him.

Second Stint in St. Louis

Thus, pleased with his performance in Triple-A, the Cardinals decided to call Martinez up on July 11th for the second time this season. Most saw this as a short-term move to fill in for an overworked bullpen, but exactly two weeks later, Martinez is still a part of the big league bullpen.

However, just like before, the Cardinals have only used him sparingly. In nine team games since his second call-up, Martinez has a grand total of three appearances for just three and one-third innings pitched. In his first appearance, he kept the Cardinals in the game against the Cubs on July 13th by pitching two scoreless innings, but his last two appearances have been what can be termed “mop-up” duty only.

On July 19th, six days after his last relief appearance, Martinez struggled in this “mop-up” role against the Padres. Hopeful to have a night off for closer, Edward Mujica, Matheny sent in Martinez to close out the ninth for the Cardinals who were leading 9-3 at the time. Martinez followed by allowing three hits, one walk, and three earned runs and was able to record just one out. Because of this poor performance, he forced the Cardinals to use Mujica when they really did not want to.

Just last night, with the Cardinals leading 11-3 over the hapless Phillies, Martinez came in again to close out the ninth. This time, he had much more success–retiring Philadelphia in order on just 13 pitches.

His second stint has been just as uneventful as the first. However, he has yet to allow a home run in the big leagues and with a 2.75 SIERA, it shows that major league hitters have trouble making solid contact against him, if at all. Thus, with all this in mind, it leaves fans and writers wondering what exactly his role is for this team? Well, as I see it, there are four possible options for Martinez, and for his sake, the Cardinals need to use him in one of them.

Four Possible Options for Martinez

1. Although I hate this term, Martinez can serve as the “bridge” between the starters and the 8th/9th inning combination of Trevor Rosenthal/Mujica. This is essentially the role that Mujica assumed for the Cardinals after coming over from the Marlins last season.

2. Martinez can fill the void and assume the position of 5th starter in the rotation. Sure, Matheny has done a great job at juggling the rotation and utilizing off-days so that the team has not needed a 5th starter yet. However, the team has 19 straight games without a day off, so a fifth starter is absolutely necessary. If the team sent him down to Triple-A to get stretched out and he was impressive enough to be called up, shouldn’t he at least get a shot in the rotation? What’s the worst thing that could happen? If he struggles, the team can look at other options like returning to Joe Kelly or giving Lyons another chance.

3. He can be traded. Although I strongly disagree with this option, I have come to the realization that there really is no such thing as an untouchable prospect anymore. If the members of the front office find a deal that they truly believe will make the team better–both in the short-term and the long-term–then can they really pass that up? I have been having trouble finding a trade that will help the Cardinals out in the long-run (meaning past this season), but that is why I am just a Twitter/Blogging-GM, not a well-respected GM like John Mozeliak.

4. He can be sent back down. I don’t really like this option either, but if he is not going to be used in one of the aforementioned roles, then what is the point in having him sit in the bullpen and pitch one inning every 5th or 6th day? He is too valuable of an arm to not gain the experience needed to be a successful big league pitcher in the future. Sure, he can learn a lot from the pitchers on the big league roster through side sessions, but what he really needs is to face live hitters and develop an effective off-speed pitch to complement his electric heater. If he is indeed sent down, I see the team either calling up Keith Butler for the bullpen or Lyons for the 5th spot in the rotation.

Until next time…


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