JUPITER, Fla. -- As spring training drags on, each day much like the one before it, certain days stand out. Friday was one of those days.
Carlos Martinez, the St. Louis Cardinals' hard-throwing young starting pitcher, made his spring debut and pitched two good innings against the Atlanta Braves. He said afterward, “I’ve been waiting for this moment all offseason.”
Given that this team that will lean heavily on its starting rotation, Martinez’s health has been much-discussed this spring. The 24-year-old went 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA and struck out 184 batters last season, generating great expectations for 2016, but he also wore down and finished the season with a sore right shoulder.
He has been moving at a slower pace than the other starting pitchers this spring due to concerns about his shoulder, but he now hopes he can begin the season on time.
Martinez’s fastball topped out at 94 mph Friday, according to the stadium radar gun, but manager Mike Matheny said the gun runs about 4 mph slow. Martinez threw all three of his off-speed pitches. He threw 19 strikes out of 26 pitches. Atlanta scored a run primarily because of a seeing-eye double by Hector Olivera just inside the third-base line. Martinez thought it was foul.
“He looked great. The ball was jumping. His slider was sharp,” Matheny said. “He got the work done we needed him to get.”
More importantly, Martinez said he has gotten to the point -- after multiple bullpen sessions, live batting practice and now pitching in a game -- that he isn’t worried about his shoulder anymore.
“At the beginning, I was a little afraid. I’m not going to lie to you guys,” Martinez said through interpreter Brayan Pena, “but I kept pitching and I was feeling better and better, getting stronger and stronger. I didn’t want to push it. I just wanted to continue the process and I feel very good right now.”
One goal the Cardinals have set for Martinez is to control his emotions without dimming his competitiveness. Their concern is that it’s difficult to be fueled by emotions for 30-plus starts. Martinez said he views his passion as part of what makes him good, but he understands the need to remain focused pitch by pitch.
“I understand I need to work on controlling myself a little more, but I’m not going to change,” Martinez said. “I’m just going to focus more on home plate and be mentally prepared for each pitch. I’m going to compete.”