ST. LOUIS — A year removed from losing the spring training competition to Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez enters camp in 2015 the clear favorite for the final rotation spot. After seven starts last season— some impressive, others forgettable—the 23-year-old welcomes a chance to cement his place among the starters.
“I’m familiar with it and I’m glad I’m had that [competition experience last spring],” Martinez said through a translator. “I know what I need to do to be in that fifth spot and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Martinez had a strong turn in winter ball, allowing no walks in 12.1 innings and striking out 12. The work was not only a good primer for the young righty, but also a much-needed mental escape from his grief over the passing of Oscar Taveras.
“It’s definitely helped me to focus on something else,” Martinez said. “I thinks it went well. I’m doing really good, felt really good and I’m very hopeful that going in there is going to help me in spring training.”
It’s been nearly four months since Taveras passed away. Martinez, visibly still carrying the pain of his close friend’s death, said he has taken a day-by-day approach to processing the loss. Manager Mike Matheny has maintained contact with him during the offseason, providing support and checking in.
“I’m thankful that Mike has stayed in contact with me via text, via phone calls,” Martinez said. “Checking on me, seeing how I’m doing and I’m thankful I’ve had that.”
Beginning this season, Martinez will wear number 18, changing from the 44 he wore last year. The hard-throwing pitcher was thankful the team gave him the opportunity to change his jersey to honor Taveras.
“He was a friend, a brother. It’s an honor for me to be able to wear it,” Martinez said. “I’m going to wear it for the rest of my career.”
Speaking almost exclusively in Spanish, his tone was measured and thoughtful. For much of the interview, his face was solemn. A smile did appear when he was asked about fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
“I feel good that there’s a Dominican now on the Hall of Fame,” he said, then flashed a grin. “I hope to be the next one.”
The elder Martinez has helped Carlos improve both his changeup and his curveball, key compliments to his triple-digit heater. With a strong winter performance and a year’s worth of experience to build from, Martinez was exuding a calm confidence. This season is his chance to begin that Hall of Fame chase, and he appears ready to grab it.
“I feel like this is my spot. I feel like I’m the pitcher I’m meant to be and I have experience now,” he said. “They know what I can do.”