Righty, competing for fifth-starter spot, now situated next to his catcher for spring
By Jenifer Langosch
JUPITER, Fla. -- Already donning a new number and seeking to affirm himself ready for a new role, Carlos Martinez was surprised to discover that he will also be occupying a new spot in the Cardinals' clubhouse this spring.
Moved from his usual locker locale and displaced from the area designated for the pitchers, Martinez now occupies the stall closest to the clubhouse entrance. The location is strategic, as it puts Martinez next to veteran catcher Yadier Molina for the duration of camp.
"Wow," Martinez, speaking through an interpreter, said of the unexpected relocation to what was, a year ago, Mark Ellis' space. "It's huge. I'm going to have help from him, and it's important that I feel more comfortable around him now. I know I'm going to get a lot of advice from him."
The move was Molina's idea, one that manager Mike Matheny signed off on without hesitation.
"He's getting around the right people," Matheny said. "The thing I love about this organization, these veterans, are that they are just teachers. Carlos is going to be the recipient of baseball talk."
For years, Molina has encouraged the organization's Spanish-speaking players to pull up a stool and join him for discussion prior to workouts. So Molina's locker gesture means that he'll spend even more time with Martinez, who arrived at camp Monday, ready to move beyond a trying offseason and prove himself ready for a rotation spot.
The Cardinals, convinced that Martinez is ready to take the next step in his career, opted not to add starting pitching this winter so as to leave an opening for the 23-year-old Dominican flamethrower. Martinez will make his pitch for the job wearing No. 18, the number he requested to wear in honor of his late teammate, Oscar Taveras.
The late October death of Taveras -- who Martinez has described as being "like a brother" -- prompted many within the organization to reach out to Martinez during the ensuing months. It was also the genesis of Molina's gesture.
Martinez said he will throw his first bullpen session on Saturday, though he is already advanced in his throwing program because of his decision to participate in winter ball. That left little time for a break, but additional time to prepare himself for the upcoming fifth-starter competition.
Martinez lost a similar competition last spring despite posting better results (16 innings pitched, 11 hits, five earned runs, five walks, 11 strikeouts) than Joe Kelly. It was a reminder to Martinez that Spring Training is not solely about numbers.
"I know that was good enough to win the job, but I understand that I need to control my emotions," Martinez said. "I'm trying to work on [commanding] the strike zone, because I know it's important so that I can throw more innings, especially now that I'm a starter."
Matheny said the staff will sit down later this week to map out a spring plan for Martinez and discuss how many innings Martinez could reasonably throw this year. With only 89 1/3 innings thrown in 2014, Martinez will not be ready to carry a full starter's load over a full season.
He has, however, reported to Florida stronger, putting on the additional muscle in hopes it will help him handle the workload required of a starting pitcher. In his first two years with the club, only eight of Martinez's 78 appearances came as a starter.
"I feel good, I feel strong," Martinez said. "I understand that it's important to be here early so that I can be seen by the coaches. I'm ready to work hard, do my job."