Watching Carlos Martinez has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride as he’s come out of the bullpen this season. However, despite some scary moments, he has turned out 21 saves in 24 opportunities behind a solid 3.50 ERA and 26.5% Strikeout-rate.
Unfortunately, a bad outing struck at the wrong time on Thursday night at Wrigley Field. With Carlos allowing 3 runs against just 1 out, the blown save was almost very costly, if not for the late heroics from Matt Carpenter.
However, this outing was a blip — definitely not a trend — and doesn’t concern me moving forward. Carlos is still the best 9th inning option — allowing Giovanny Gallegos to pitch wherever needed — and will be solid going forward.
From Sand to Stone
For the first 32 appearances of Carlos’ 2019 season, his foundation appeared to be built on sand and constantly moving beneath him. In those 32 games, he allowed at least 1 baserunner in 24 of them, producing a clean outing just 25% of the time. Though he often effectively pitched around the danger, it always felt like the footing could give away at any time.
His numbers in those 32 games read:
3.74 ERA, 24.1% K%, 9.7% BB%, 1.34 WHIP, .246 Opp Avg, .658 Opp OPS
However, over the last 3+ weeks, Carlos has traded the sand for stone, becoming rock solid. Going back to August 26th — including last night — Martinez has had 8 clean outings in 10 appearances. Over his last 10 games, he’s had as many baserunner-less appearances as he had in his first 32. That is very impressive and it looked like a corner had been turned.
Here are the numbers over the last 10 games:
2.70 ERA, 36.1% K%, 5.6% BB%, 0.70 WHIP, .147 Opp Avg, .370 Opp OPS
And mind you, those numbers include last night’s 3 ER, 3 H, 1 BB appearance. Even with the bad game baked in, his numbers are dominant over the last 3 weeks.
I believe he will continue to be dominant moving forward, as last night was a fluke.
Parsing the Faux Pas
I want to break down last night’s appearance, because it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
The leadoff walk was bad. Period.
Carlos came out of the bullpen and was missing badly with his slider. His lack of feel led to a walk, which directly led to the results of the the next at-bat.
Going into last night, Kris Bryant had only face 2 pitchers (Zach Davies & Michael Wacha) more often than Carlos Martinez, facing him 41 time. Six walks and two HBP elevated Bryant to a solid .341 OBP, but Martinez had otherwise owned Bryant. In 33 At-Bats, Bryant had just 6 hits (.182) against 15 K’s (36.5%), with his lone extra-base hit and lone RBI both coming on a solo HR.
Bryant is well aware of this, and following an erratic walk to open the inning he was not going to give Carlos the chance to get ahead of him and force him to contend with a slider that he has been unable to touch in his career. Bryant jumped on the get-me-over first pitch for a single.
If Carlos is throwing strikes to start the inning, then he probably attacks Bryant more aggressively and — based on career numbers — gets him out.
The struggles continued as he opened up a 3-0 count on Schwarber.
However, despite no damaging being done yet, this is actually where the bad pitching ended.
The 3rd ball to Schwarber was the 7th and final ball thrown in the inning as Martinez locked in with his command and started peppering the edges of the strike zone, coming back to earn a strikeout of Babe Ru–I mean, Kyle Schwarber.
The double by Zobrist, an obviously bad result, came on a good pitch — or at least a pitch that should not have produced damage. According to Statcast, the batted ball had an expected batting average of just .250. The pitch was up above the strikezone and inside. Zobrist’s ability to turn on the pitch, tomahawk it, and keep it fair (barely) was impressive, but it wasn’t the fault of Carlos. Ahead 0-1, the pitch was clearly intended to raise the eye level of Zobrist — hopefully netting a strike — before attacking him down in the zone with sliders and change-ups. It was a solid setup pitch that Zobrist managed to put a good swing on.
Next came Contreras. Martinez dominated Contreras for the entirety of the at-bat. He got two foul balls, neither of which was well struck, and a swinging strike while forging ahead 0-2. Then the worst possible thing happened. Carlos made too good of a pitch and Contreras hit it so poorly, squibbing out about 15-20 feet from home plate, that there was no play to make. A lucky break.
At that point, Shildt made the right call to remove Martinez from the game to get the lefty-lefty matchup against Heyward and stave off the Cubs’ comeback attempt. Wrigley was swirling into a tizzy and even though Carlos was making good pitches at that point, he was finding no favorable results.
But overall, other than the leadoff walk and single on a get-me-over pitch, Martinez’s pitching was fine. He deserves blame for starting the trouble, but also deserves credit for locking down and making good pitches to Schwarber, Zobrist, and Contreras. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any luck as good pitches resulted in well-placed hits.
Thankfully, Matt Carpenter — in the game due to a Wong injury, because that’s how baseball goes — would jump all over a fastball from a rusty Craig Kimbrel and save the Cardinals from a devastating loss to open the season’s deciding stretch of games.
The fact that they won despite it likely would cause many fans to gloss over and general forgive and forget Martinez’s 9th inning adventure, anyway. It’s all good as long as they win.
For the fans that may be holding some concern, you don’t need to. Last night was really just 2 bad plate appearances followed by bad luck. Carlos has been very good lately, and nothing I saw last night is leading me to believe that that will change.
Does he need a day off today? Yes. But I anticipate that dominant Carlos will be toeing the rubber at Wrigley before the weekend is through.
Thanks for reading.