Let’s make this clear right up front: the first start of a pitcher’s spring really doesn’t mean anything. They are facing live hitters that aren’t their teammates for perhaps the first time since September. It’s a time where the rules are made up and the scores don’t matter, so if they don’t feel like they have their changeup, they can throw it 20 times in a row to try to find the feel, no matter if five of them wind up over the fence. You really shouldn’t read much into most spring training numbers, much less one single start to kick things off.
However, these starts also don’t happen in a vacuum. The Cardinal starters, save for Adam Wainwright being Adam Wainwright, have all had similar rough outings, but the lens through which is viewed is different.
Jack Flaherty: Had the bases loaded in the first before Mike Shildt used the “roll the inning” rule to get him out of trouble. Got nobody out in the second. He threw 39 pitches and allowed four hits, three walks, and three runs.
Flaherty is a very good pitcher, we know that. We know how dominant his 2019 second half was and, with his youth, he gets a lot of rope. While some were already throwing him under the bus, the fact that he has that sort of goodwill built up (and that Angel Hernandez was behind the plate) led most to discount the outing and expect that he’ll be better next time out.
Kwang Hyun Kim: Didn’t get out of the first before being replaced by Angel Rondon. Shildt again used a new spring training rule to re-insert Kim to start the second, but he only got one out there before being pulled for the day. Kim threw 39 pitches and allowed four hits, two walks, and three runs, a line remarkably similar to Flaherty’s.
With Kim, the focus was more on the fact that he wasn’t throwing quite as hard in this game as he did last year, which had people concerned about a health issue. Shildt discounted that and Kim says he doesn’t know why he was throwing at a lesser velocity, so we’ll just have to wait and see on that. The velocity took the focus away from the results. While, again, you don’t read much into it, people come into the season with a little trepidation about Kim, wondering if the longer season and the fact that the NL Central teams have seen him now will lead to a setback. I don’t think this game moved the needle for most people but it would have been nice to see a better outing.
Carlos Martinez: Didn’t get out of the first before being replaced by Austin Warner. He came back out for the second but allowed another run and Shildt rolled the inning. (The problem with the smaller pool of people with COVID protocols is again Angel Hernandez was behind the plate.) While two of the runs charged to him were allowed to score by Warner, he still wound up with 38 pitches thrown, four hits, three walks, and six runs scored.
As you can see, except for the runs, he’s right in line with the other two starters. Granted, Martinez also didn’t help things by throwing a pickoff throw away, but in general it wasn’t much different than Flaherty or Kim. Yet Martinez is being castigated much more than the other two.
I noted above that these things don’t happen in solitude. Flaherty, Kim, and Martinez are all at different ages, all at different stages in their career. In Martinez’s case, the last three years have been frustrating, as he’s struggled to be a starter due to injuries and other issues. No one doubts that he can be a top pitcher in the league–he’s been that before–but he’s not been very effective as a starter since he went on the IL in May of 2018. He came back in June, struggled through it and July, then went back on the shelf. He returned in late August and was a very good reliever the rest of the way, Arm issues (and it felt like some other things, like maybe a preference to relieve) kept him in the pen in 2019 and last year’s season was COVID-enhanced.
So it’s been a while and people realize that. It was also reported heavily this summer that he’d pitched well for his team in winter ball and helped his team get to the Caribbean World Series. With health seemingly restored and a good history from the winter (which also means the rust issue is less in his case since he was pitching just a month ago) you’d have liked to see a better outing from Martinez. Instead, it was another frustrating one.
All that said, it was just one start. Houston’s a good team, Martinez didn’t get a call at a key moment, there are a myriad of reasons to write this off just like we are doing with Flaherty and Kim. That said, Flaherty could probably have another clunker and people might still not be too concerned. I don’t think Kim and Martinez have that luxury. There’s a little more anxiety with them for the exact opposite reasons: Kim doesn’t have a track record and Martinez does. Hopefully the next outings for both will be better and we can start relaxing a bit about the rotation.
(On the other hand, Alex Reyes threw two scoreless and fairly dominating innings last night. Perhaps if one of these two falters enough, we could finally see a healthy Reyes in the rotation.)
While we are speaking of players that 1) can be divisive among the fan base, 2) haven’t produced up to standards in a while, and 3) are off to a slower start, Matt Carpenter led off for the second game of the spring and struck out all three times. He’s 0-6 on the spring, though he hadn’t struck out before yesterday. He’s hit one ball out of the infield. It’s just six at bats (he’s drawn one walk so it’s seven PA) but Carpenter needed a strong spring to have any real chance of getting early playing time at the expense of Tommy Edman. Maybe that’ll still happen but when you factor in everything Carpenter’s done since the last six weeks of 2018, it’s not encouraging. Too early to write him off but something to watch anyway.
Cards back in action tonight, seeing the Nationals for the second time this spring. No TV again, unfortunately, and it sounds like John Gant is going to get the call this time. He’s wanted a chance to start but this also feels like the Trevor Rosenthal “yeah, we’ll finally give him a start in spring” rather than a serious tryout. But maybe he can get away from the standard line we’ve seen so far this spring!