Righty fires 7 1/3 scoreless with 8 K's, 2 nifty double plays
By John McGonigal
PITTSBURGH -- Much is made about first impressions, but Thursday was all about a final impression for Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez.
The night before ballots close for the National League's 2015 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote, Martinez had one more chance to woo voters, and he did everything he could to help his cause, throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings and yielding just four hits in a 4-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
Martinez, who surged to second place behind Reds starter Johnny Cueto as of Thursday's update, did well to pitch out of precarious spots, including two innings in which Pittsburgh had runners in scoring position with no outs.
"He proved why he's in the running for an All-Star," Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said.
Martinez entered the night in a thick battle for that Final Vote spot. Cueto held a slim lead, followed by Martinez, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. The four players were separated by 1 percent in voting, which ends at 3 p.m. CT on Friday.
The start of Martinez's outing wasn't ideal. A leadoff double from Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco followed by a Neil Walker single put runners on first and third with no outs. But a rare 5-4-2 double play induced by Martinez killed the Pirates' early pop.
A few innings later, Martinez faced a similar situation: a wild pitch moved runners to second and third with no outs. But Martinez nabbed a line drive sent back to him by Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez and threw to third, catching Jung Ho Kang off the bag for another unconventional double play.
"When you get a couple of those go your way in big situations that could get the ball rolling in a pretty bad direction for us, it's pretty important," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Save for those two unfavorable situations, Martinez was virtually unhittable. Matheny said Martinez had a good feel for his off-speed stuff, utilizing his changeup, breaking ball and sinker effectively.
Those kept Pittsburgh's hitters off-balance while he pummeled the zone with a high-90s fastball. It didn't let up, either -- Martinez hit 100 mph on his 97th pitch of the evening.
"It seemed like he had pretty good command of all his pitches today, throwing them where he wanted," Pirates All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "He was basically playing R.B.I. Baseball out there."
As for Martinez, he said he felt comfortable even after a 36-minute rain delay, and wanted to throw a complete game.
That didn't happen, but the right-hander added to this season's stellar portfolio. With the win, he moved to 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA.
Now, there's only one thing to do.
"We'll just wait for tomorrow," Martinez said.
John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.