For Martinez, the sky is the limit -- for now

For Martinez, the sky is the limit -- for now

ST. LOUIS -- Every inning that 23-year-old right-hander Carlos Martinez throws until the close of the season will augment an innings total that already represents a career high. But while the Cardinals continue to keep a close eye on that workload, they have not enacted a plan to limit how many innings he can throw over the final eight weeks of the regular season.

That was evident on Tuesday, as manager Mike Matheny allowed Martinez to go eight innings deep in a 4-3 win over the Pirates. Martinez equaled his career high with 108 pitches and joined John Lackey as the only Cardinals starters with multiple eight-inning starts this season.

"I'm happy about that," Martinez (12-4) said afterward of the club allowing him to pitch without constraint. "I feel confident. This year I came here to work hard, throw as many innings as I can pitch and try to help the Cardinals make it to the World Series."

Martinez earns win No. 12

After naming Martinez the fifth starter out of camp, the Cardinals indicated a hesitancy to allow him to carry a full workload in his first season as a permanent member of the rotation. To this point, though, there has been little pullback aside from building in an extended hiatus around the All-Star break.

And as Tuesday indicated, there are certainly no in-game restrictions either.

"The potential win supersedes anything we have in place right now," said Matheny, whose club is 18-3 in Martinez's starts this season. "Right there we need our best pitcher [in the eighth], and to me he was the best pitcher we had for that situation. I think he proved that."

General manager John Mozeliak acknowledged prior to Tuesday's game that Martinez's innings accrual is "certainly something we think about," but he added that the decision will largely hinge "on how the next couple weeks play out."

Martinez has now thrown 137 1/3 innings, already 33 2/3 more than he accrued in 2014 (postseason and Minor League work included). In 2013 he threw 120 2/3 innings.

Martinez has averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings an outing over his 21 starts so far and, if he were to stay on turn, could make as many as 10 more starts before the end of the regular season. Totaling another 10 outings and continuing to pitch as deep as he has could push him close to the 200-innings mark -- and that's before postseason work even comes into play.

The club does have four more scheduled off-days, and those will present an opportunity to slightly adjust the rotation plans to build in extra time off for Martinez. Those off-days make it unlikely, too, that he'll make as many as 10 starts.

If the Cardinals decide to be more aggressive in finding breaks for Martinez -- who now sports a 2.62 season ERA -- they do have other emerging options. Mozeliak noted that Tim Cooney, who underwent an emergency appendectomy in late July, is rehabbing in Florida and will likely return to game action in approximately two weeks. Marco Gonzales, who missed extensive time this season due to impingement in his left shoulder, is again healthy and now just working on efficiency and pitch crispness. Tyler Lyons, a member of the bullpen, has the potential to spot start as well.

All three, however, remain secondary options to the club's current Plan A, which is to continue sending Martinez to the mound.

"Right now, the way he's throwing," Mozeliak said, "a lot of us have confidence that he'll be just fine."

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