LOS ANGELES -- His scoreless inning streak having just ended at 21 2/3 after a bases-loaded walk to Joc Pederson, Carlos Martinez stood on the precipice of an unraveling in Friday's second inning at Dodger Stadium.
He had walked two in the inning, allowed a pair of hits and was now being visited by pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who packed a bunch into his brief visit. The message was about focus, conviction and the lesson impressed upon Martinez repeatedly this year -- that harder isn't necessarily better.
Two pitches later, Martinez was headed for the dugout, an inning-ending double play preventing the early deficit from swelling any further. It would be the last pitch Martinez would throw with a runner in scoring position all night.
"That was a big play right there," Martinez, speaking through a translator, said afterward. "[Catcher] Yadi [Molina] told me to throw the sinker down and believe that it was going to be a double play. That's what happened."
Though uninvolved in the offense's eighth-inning rally, Martinez had everything to do with setting up the Cardinals' 2-1 win over the Dodgers. He reined back on the radar gun readings to get the double play off Jimmy Rollins' bat and didn't allow a hit in the rest of his seven-inning start.
Martinez finished the night with a career-high 11 strikeouts, three of which came in succession after he walked the leadoff hitter in the sixth, the only Dodgers batter to reach base after the second. Having just faced the Dodgers five days ago -- he held them scoreless in that game -- Martinez, after seeing the perils of pounding too many fastballs in the second inning, relied more on his slider and changeup to keep Los Angeles' hitters guessing as his outing went on.
"There's that zone he needs to be in and Derek and Yadi both were explaining to Carlos just to back off a little bit and make a good pitch, not as hard as you possibly can," manager Mike Matheny said. "Sometimes you take a few steps forward and have to step back. That was a step backwards and then he went forward again. It was a good finish."
After throwing 33 pitches over the first two innings, Martinez breezed through the next five on 67. Nine of his strikeouts came during that roll. And in finishing seven innings, Martinez gave the Cardinals a sixth consecutive start of that length. The team has won five of those games.
Since allowing seven runs in back-to-back starts to open May, Martinez has given up three runs on 20 hits while striking out 40 over the 32 1/3 innings covering five outings.
"You can see that he is definitely making a lot of strides," second baseman Kolten Wong said of Martinez. "You can tell he's becoming more of a pitcher than a thrower and is keeping his emotions more under control."