(BasballStL) — The Cardinals are the favorite to win the NL Central, a top-three candidate to win the National League, and have a legitimate chance and winning it all.
Much of that optimism is founded on a young bullpen that closed the season in dominant fashion, finishing with a 1.1 WHIP and striking out 3.7 batters for every one they walked.
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62 games were finished by someone 25 or younger, with the combination of Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal (all 24 and younger) establishing themselves as door closers.
For Martinez, spring training brought an opportunity to crack the starting rotation, though the spot ultimately went to Joe Kelly. While Kelly certainly earned the role, the decision was likely made easier by Martinez’s elite fastball and evolving secondary pitches as weapons in the eighth innings of games.
He will inevitably move into the rotation soon, and 2013 showed how different a rotation and bullpen can look at the end of the year from where it started.
But if the Cards hope to use Martinez as a starter down the road this season, the reliance on the dynamic setup man could become an issue.
“We’re concerned. We’re concerned about every one of them not just Carlos,” Mike Matheny said. “Especially guys that are throwing higher pitch counts and we’re keeping our eye on it.”
Martinez threw 16 innings in spring training, and has been used in 6.1 innings so far in the regular season.
He’s appeared in five out of the nine games and thrown 87 pitches. The only back-to-back appearances this year came April 7 and 8, when he threw a combined 31 pitches over two days.
Whether it’s because of injury or just needing a rest, there will be plenty of missed starts over 162 games.
Martinez is a weapon in waiting, but the transition from high leverage reliever to starter isn’t easy. On top of adjusting mental approach and endurance, succession in that conversion starts in April, with the management of his usage. That’s easier said than done, as Martinez is such an indispensable part of finishing tight games, and there isn’t a pitcher alive who doesn’t want the ball.
“Some of the guys tell us they feel good and we see they’ve thrown too many days- even if it’s not back-to-back, maybe it’s three out of the last four- we’ll shut them down,” Matheny said. “Sometimes we feel like we do need to save them from themselves, but we also do listen to them when they really want to get out there and they earn that trust the more we communicate.”