JUPITER, Fla. (Baseball STL) -- When the Cardinals traded former 1st round pick Shelby Miller to Atlanta in a deal to acquire right fielder Jason Heyward it opened up a lot of debate as to what the corresponding move would be. Could the Cardinals go with what they had to fill that open rotation spot vacated by Miller?
Or would GM John Mozeliak be forced to go outside the organization - again - to bring someone in?
In the eyes of 23-year old Carlos Martinez, however, there was no question. He believes the job is his. He believes he's good enough, having paid his dues in the bullpen, to get this chance. Of course, that's not exactly his call.
"It's going to depend on (Mike Matheny's) decision, it's not my decision, but I feel like I'm going to do enough to get the opportunity (to start)," Martinez said through translator Luis Morales.
Martinez came up in an emergency during the 2013 season when injuries depleted the Cardinals pitching staff. The Dominican Republic native pitched admirably in relief - especially for a then-21 year old fresh off a turn in AA. But the young righty turned it on in the postseason.
He set up Trevor Rosenthal on the way to a World Series appearance and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning (11 punch outs in 12.2 innings). 2014 was a weird year for him between getting arguably overworked in relief before being thrust into the rotation midway through the season.
Now, there's no debate as to what Martinez's role will be. Barring anything crazy happening he'll get the ball the first week of the season...as a starter.
To prepare for this potential opportunity Martinez is spending practically every waking moment with catcher Yadier Molina. The two share lockers next to each other in the clubhouse. Molina caught his first bullpen session. You could see the two talking extensively beforehand about what the plan would be.
"He's helping me a lot about pitches, counts and everything. He's always giving me advice so it's been very helpful," Martinez said.
Spending time with Molina certainly isn't a bad thing for a young Latin player. Neither is having the added motivation of honoring a friend.
The only reason there's an opening in the rotation to begin with is because the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller along with prospect Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. And the only reason that trade was made was because Martinez's best friend, Oscar Taveras, died in an alcohol-related car accident along with his girlfriend during the offseason.
To honor Taveras, Martinez changed numbers. No longer is he wearing 44. He's now taking Taveras' old number, 18. It's very noticeable, for obvious reasons, here in camp.
"I don't feel like the number (18) is on my back. I feel like it's on my heart. That's the number (Oscar) wore and this is a way to honor my friend," Martinez said.
So he has motivation to be a starter. He has his best friend in his heart. Sounds like a recipe for a big season from what should be the newest member of the starting rotation.?