Cardinals name Martinez fifth starter

St. Louis picks righty over lefty Gonzales, who will start season in Triple-A

Cardinals name Martinez fifth starter

JUPITER, Fla. -- After two seasons of proving himself in the bullpen, a winter of healing from the loss of a best friend and a spring in which he watched Jaime Garcia temporarily leapfrog him in the rotation competition, Carlos Martinez received the news he's been waiting a lifetime to receive.

Speaking to Martinez in Spanish, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny informed the 23-year-old righty on Monday that he will open the season as the team's fifth starter. It was news to which Martinez responded, "That's my dream."

The announcement means that Martinez, after starting the Cardinals' Grapefruit League game on Wednesday, will make his season debut against the Reds on April 11. Though they had the flexibility to deploy a four-man rotation for the first two weeks, the Cardinals chose to get Martinez involved from the get-go, hoping that would benefit him and build in early rest for the other starters.

In a related conversation, the Cardinals also informed lefty Marco Gonzales that he will start the team's exhibition game in Memphis on Friday and then remain there to open the season in Triple-A. He'd be next in line should the Cardinals need another starter.

"We believe he's going to be a good pitcher for a long time," Matheny said of Gonzales, who allowed two runs in 17 1/3 spring innings. "He had a disadvantage going into this from the beginning, we knew that, because of his availability to be sent back to get some work. He's handled every opportunity extremely well, and he'll handle this opportunity to go get better."

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Martinez entered camp as the favorite to win the final rotation job and only briefly lost that inside track because of how well Garcia was pitching. But with Garcia now needing to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list (left shoulder inflammation), the Cardinals turned back to Martinez.

Martinez's spring numbers -- 16 innings pitched, 13 hits, seven earned runs, five walks and 16 strikeouts -- aren't dazzling, but the Cardinals were particularly interested in seeing efficiency and controlled emotions on the field. They saw both.

"I'd say he was terrific on both," Matheny said. "He was very consistent this whole spring. I liked the way he handled his emotions. But he's a fighter. This kid is tough. We want to see some of this toughness. It just takes a little time for him to develop, and that's really what sets them on the next level, how they can make those adjustments."

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Martinez has said he's dedicating this season and every one thereafter to his late teammate, Oscar Taveras, whose No. 18 he now wears after Taveras died in a car accident in October. Knowing how affected he was by that tragedy, the Cardinals invested emotionally in Martinez throughout the offseason. Matheny was among those who kept in regular touch, and during those conversations he told Martinez the club was ready to commit to him as a starter this year.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.