Clipped rotation no worry for well-stocked Cards
With three starters on DL, opportunity opens to showcase pitching depth
LOS ANGELES -- The pitching depth of the St. Louis Cardinals was tested severely in 2013. The Cardinals passed the test so effectively that they became the best team in the National League.
What is the payoff for that kind of impressive organizational achievement? Apparently, the Cards have to go through the same test again this year.
And it doesn't get any easier. As we speak, the Cardinals have 60 percent of their projected starting rotation on the disabled list. But once again, this organization appears capable of finding replacements that are not only suitable, but have the potential to be exceedingly good.
With Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Jaime Garcia all on the DL, the Cards have once again tapped into their supply of exceptionally talented young pitchers. To the opposition, that supply must seem by now to be unlimited.
Carlos Martinez got the call Friday night, against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Though Martinez was not involved in the decision, he did set up the eventual St. Louis victory, working 4 1/3 innings, giving up just one run, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Cardinals' bullpen made that score stand.
Martinez had made 30 relief appearances for the Redbirds this season, before being put into the rotation. This was his third start. The Cards have won all three starts, and Martinez has made progress from start to start.
Martinez is only 22. His velocity reached 100 mph Friday night and he was consistently hitting 98. The stuff is unquestionable. What Martinez needs now, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny indicated, is more consistency pitching out of the stretch. Matheny pulled Martinez two outs short of qualifying for a victory, with two runners on. It was the right move to make, especially after Seth Maness came in with his trusty sinker and got Adrian Gonzalez to hit into a double play.
"Carlos got himself into a little bit of a bind again," Matheny said. "We've got some more work to do. It's a tempo, rhythm thing. There's some minor things that we're going to work on and hopefully see some of that consistency in the zone and that consistent movement. Because when he's in the zone, he looks really good."
Martinez is a high-energy individual. He had two hits Friday night, ran the bases with zest and athleticism, and appeared to play the game with genuine enthusiasm.
"I always wanted to be a starter," Martinez said. "I think I'm starting to develop my pitches in every start and getting better. Thanks to God for giving me the health to pitch."
Now, it is a question of going deeper into games. How does that happen?
"Stay in the strike zone and keep working on control, don't throw too many balls, and keep getting ground balls," Martinez said.
He is headed in the right direction.
Just two days before, the Cardinals had gone with a 22-year-old lefty, Marco Gonzales, in a start at Colorado. Gonzales was just up from Double-A Springfield, but he made a favorable impression on the Cards, even though he gave up five runs in five innings. St. Louis eventually won, 9-6.
Gonzales was pitching in Coors Field, which defines the notion of hitter-friendly. And a Major League debut is pressure enough, but Gonzales, a native of Colorado, was also pitching before the homefolk.
"I was impressed, at how much went into that start," Matheny said. "I don't think we could have constructed a tougher test, all things considered. We didn't necessarily label it that way to him or to any of you [reporters], but we were all very aware of the challenges that came along with it. It once again wasn't, 'Let's see how tough of a test we can give this poor kid.' He's the right guy, right now.
"You put Marco in a place that's not Colorado and is not filled with all the other stuff, and I really like what he was doing. I feel really good that he's going to give us a chance [to win], the same way as Carlos."
Three starters simultaneously on the DL could be a disaster for another club. For the Cards, it appears to be something more like an opportunity for some extremely talented young pitchers.
"We see three of our starters go down; two in one day, you don't see that happen very often," Matheny said. "So I believe we are in a test right now. We see some young guys. Who's going to step up and take advantage of the opportunity?
"I believe Marco did a real nice job showing that he could do it, I believe Carlos continues to do a real nice job, continues to do a better job every time he goes out there. We're also seeing Joe Kelly beginning to move forward pretty quick now, taking steps in that direction. We've seen pretty positive things with all the guys. We anticipate that the young guys will hold us in some games and pretty soon we'll get everybody back."
With three starters on the disabled list, the Cardinals have on hand a replacement throwing strikes at 100 mph. That seems to be one-of-a kind pitching depth.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.