JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- It was just about 9:30 Friday morning, and minor league catcher Brian O’Keefe was standing in a batter’s box on the main field of the Cardinals’ workout complex in Jupiter.
On the mound was something he hadn’t seen before. Carlos Martinez, six feet of wiry electricity, twisted, whirled and delivered a pitch in his first live batting practice of spring.
“Everything was down, everything was late,” O’Keefe said with a slight shake of his head. “He did a really good job of mixing up his pitches. His fastball was hitting spots, his slider was breaking really late.”
Martinez, who followed a slower program during spring training as he worked back from a shoulder injury, was dazzling. In complete control throughout the session, he zipped fastballs and snapped off breaking pitches with the precision of someone who had already pitched for a month.
“Now I see my [work]” he said afterward. “When I came back to Jupiter in the offseason, now I see (my work paying off. It feels so good.”
It wasn’t just reporters and minor leaguers who were floored. Adam Wainwright, who watched Martinez work from behind the batter’s cage, delivered heavy praise after the dust settled.
“I don’t think he looked like the Carlos of old at all. I think he looked better than I’ve ever seen him look. I think he looked better than anyone I’ve ever seen throw a live BP,” he said.
The Cardinal ace added it was Martinez’s control that stood out; that from the start of the windup to balance point, to release, every molecule of the 24-year-old’s frame was in sync.
Over the course of his 25 pitches, a group of minor leaguers who were up at step camp got a taste of major league stuff. Recent draftee Nick Plummer and 21-year-old Eliezer Alvarez both rotated with O’Keefe in the box, getting an appetizer of a meal the hope to eventually eat every day.
But even in a relaxed setting like the back fields of Jupiter, Martinez was a five-star chef. Late in the session, he geared up and loosed a pitch that froze O’Keefe solid in the box. Brayan Pena held the mitt still for a moment of admiration and Martinez beamed back at him.
“I was looking for something hard. He threw me a really good changeup, it came out of his hand good, same arm speed and kind of fell off the table late,” O’Keefe said.
It was a signature moment from Martinez; his joy for pitching combining with his eye-popping ability. Even in quiet first live session, even as he has matured into a more serious worker, he still can’t resist a bit of fun.
“I tried to surprise him,” he said with a big grin. “He was never looking for a changeup.”
Martinez worked through all his pitches Friday, throwing a four-seamer, two-seamer, changeup curve and slider.
He expects he’ll throw another side session (or perhaps one more live BP), then be ready for game action. Based on the routines and assuming all goes as planned, fans could see him against major leaguers by this weekend.