Getting There Via The Scenic Route

This winter, the St. Louis Cardinals made it clear that they expected Carlos Martinez to be the fifth starter in their rotation. Yesterday, the Cardinals named Martinez as that fifth starter. However, as you know, it’s been anything but a straight path for the young righthander. We’ve talked about the fifth spot over and over again, the competition that wasn’t and such, but it’s tough to see it get settled with an injury.

Jaime Garcia was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, which made Martinez the fifth starter in all but announcement, which came later on. What this means for Garcia is still pretty unclear. Best case, he’s able to return after the 15 days are up, which would be April 10 since it was backdated to Friday, but since Martinez won’t make his first start until the 11th, we know that’s not going to happen. Garcia’s going to have a rehab stint to finish building up his arm strength to make up for missing the last two starts of the spring. So even if he’s ready to go next week, you are probably talking about the end of April before he could legitimately return to the rotation. And that’s just if the soreness goes away quickly.  If it lingers, who knows what will happen.

Given his history, it’s probably not worth talking about what the Cardinals will do when he’s healthy until he is healthy. There’s a non-zero chance that he won’t pitch at all for St. Louis this year. I don’t think it’s a large chance, but that possibility is there. When he looks like he’s about to return, then we’ll debate what happens to Martinez or at least how we get him into the starting rotation.

Martinez has earned the job, however. If you went strictly by spring performance, perhaps Marco Gonzales has a better case but that’s more a tiebreaker than a decision point. Gonzales, as we’ve gone over many times, is younger, less experienced and well-served by a little time in Memphis, no matter how sharp he looked this spring. One thing to watch for will be how he handles going to AAA. Remember when Shelby Miller got sent down after he thought he should have gone north he bombed and admitted later that affected his focus. I doubt the same will be with Gonzales, honestly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.  If he’s as sharp in Memphis as he was this spring, John Mozeliak may have tough decisions coming earlier than expected.

We finally get to see what the Cardinals have in Martinez. Martinez, save for that bump in the road against the Twins early on, had a pretty solid spring and wound up tallying a strikeout per inning, which is nice to see. More importantly for me, he walked just one every three innings, which has been my major concern with him, that his stuff may be too good and it continues to move out of the strike zone. If he’s got that under control, watching him every five days could really be a treat. There’s a reason St. Louis held on to him and let Miller go to the Braves and let the Phillies keep Cole Hamels. I look forward to seeing him prove that reason!

Before Martinez was official, the news about Garcia was paired with the fact that Carlos Villanueva had made the team as a long reliever, thus removing any suspense from the fifth starter announcement. The only way Gonzales was going to get it was if they wanted to move Martinez to the bullpen, but Villanueva took the last spot. Like Martinez, Villanueva had one real rough outing and that skewed a lot of his numbers given the small number of innings we are playing with. He also struck out a batter an inning, though, and gives the team that long man that Mike Matheny tends to think they need. Given the health situation and the idea of saving innings on most of these starters, he’s probably more right this year than in years past. Plus, no offense to Villanueva, this isn’t like keeping Joe Kelly around as a seldom-used starter. If Kelly was the “Ferrari in the garage”, Villanueva is the mini-van in the carport. Not necessarily flashy, but gets the job done and isn’t a terrible waste when it’s not on the road.

The last decision that has to be made is the last bench spot, but in actuality that decision was made as well with the decision by the Redbirds to go with five starters early in the year. (Which, incidentally, shows their commitment to saving innings on these starters.  With an off day on Monday as well as Thursday and the next Tuesday, the Cards could have easily used four starters for a bit, but hopefully saving the innings in April will allow them to be better in September and October.) If they had just gone with four, Ty Kelly might have been able to make the squad for the first couple of weeks. Now, with a 12 man staff, that leaves five spots for the bench, four of which are taken up by Mark Reynolds, Tony Cruz, Pete Kozma and Peter Bourjos. Randal Grichuk would seem to be way out in front for that last spot, especially since he still leads the team in home runs (though he’s been stuck on four for a while). Kelly will probably wear Cardinal red at sometime this season, but it seems likely he’ll be staying in Memphis after the exhibition Friday night.

Before we wrap it up, take the time to read Jenifer Langosch’s story about Josiah Viera. You’ve seen him around the Cards, but maybe you’ve never heard the full story. I hadn’t, honestly. I knew some of it, but Jenifer lays it all out there in an outstanding read.

If you are a regular listener to Gateway To Baseball Heaven on download, you may be wondering where this week’s edition was.  Blog Talk Radio had technical problems Sunday night and so Tara and I were unable to record the show.  With all this news, though, we didn’t want to wait until next Sunday, which would be overshadowed with, you know, an actual game, so we’ll be on tonight at 10 PM if you want to tune in and listen to us break this all down.

Today we look at the NL East in the predictions and the Texas Rangers in Pepper. Man, this blog has been busy lately, hasn’t it?  Making up for all those quiet days in the winter, I guess!

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