St. Louis Cardinals should keep Carlos Martinez in bullpen to begin season

St. Louis Cardinals first called up righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez from the minor leagues in May 2013, and the flamethrower established himself as the team’s eighth-inning pitcher by September and the playoffs. Team management should keep him in that same spot to begin the 2014 season.


Martinez, 22, should be the setup man for closer Trevor Rosenthal in part because of the ability he showed through  21 regular-season games and 12 postseason appearances in a run that ended in a World Series Game 6 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

But the other reasons he should start in the big-league bullpen rather than the starting rotation or one of the top starters for the Triple A Memphis Redbirds revolve around how the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff projects to start the season.

He has been a top-40 prospect in all of Major League Baseball in each of the past two years and the consensus inside and outside the Cardinals organization is that he will be a future star pitcher in the big leagues.

But the Cardinals don’t absolutely need him in their starting rotation because they have ace starter Adam Wainwright, second-year phenoms Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller, and consistent third-year pitcher Lance Lynn as incumbents in the rotation.

One spot supposedly remains up for grabs, but that position should go to lefthanded pitcher Jaime Garcia, who came to spring training healthy after shoulder surgery ended his 2013 season.

Garcia was a regular in the starting rotation from 2010-12 before his throwing shoulder began to give him trouble late in the 2012 season, and he had an 33-22 record with a 3.39 earned-run average that helped earn him a four-year, $27 million contract in 2012 that will last through the 2015 season.

The money and his track record should give Garcia preference in whatever battles exist in spring training for starting rotation spots, but another pitcher on the Cardinals projected big-league staff is an equally large factor in where Martinez should begin the season.

Joe Kelly lost a battle with then-rookie Miller for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation during the 2013 spring training, and the Cardinals stashed Kelly in the bullpen for the first portion of the regular season.

Kelly pitched sparingly as a reliever through the first three months of the season, but he moved into the starting rotation in July and won 10 games in the second half of the season in addition to four postseason starts with a 3.78 ERA.

Kelly likely won’t receive one of the five spots in the starting rotation this year, either, but he could again be a valuable member of the team as a long reliever in the bullpen.

So with Kelly in the bullpen, Martinez could solely pitch the eighth inning rather than the multiple innings he would probably throw as a starter in the minor leagues.

Therefore, the Cardinals could keep Martinez from racking up a large number of innings early in the season so he could be fresher late in the season if one of the starters falters or gets hurt.

Of course, the Cardinals could designate Martinez as the eighth-inning guy regardless of circumstances and move Kelly back into the rotation since he has more experience and would already be used to the extended workload required to be a starter.

The Cardinals would likely have to send Martinez to the minors before moving him from the bullpen to the rotation anyway so he could build up his arm stamina.

They used a similar formula in 2013 and plan to give Martinez starters-type workloads to begin spring training this year, but the setup role is vital to the bullpen, as evidenced by Mitchell Boggs’ strong performance in that role in 2012 that helped the Cardinals come within two victories of the World Series and his failure a year later that dampened an otherwise very positive April for the team.

Martinez has plenty of potential to one day be a pitcher at or near the front of the starting rotation, but right now his value is highest as an important member of the bullpen.

Author: Jacob Mayer

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