ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' decision to provide Carlos Martinez with three extra days of rest leading into Friday's start wasn't so much designed to make him sharper in the moment, but rather with an eye on October. What role Martinez fills once the Cardinals get there, though, could change depending upon how his next few weeks unfold.
Martinez threw 100 pitches over five innings while allowing the first four runs of the Cardinals' 9-3 loss to the Pirates. While a portion of the damage was done on a bloop hit and broken-bat single, the results, when placed in greater context, are trending in the wrong direction.
After opening his first full season as a rotation member with a 2.36 ERA in 18 starts, Martinez has posted a 5.13 ERA over his last seven. He's allowed three or more runs in all seven of those starts after doing so just three times previously.
An opponents' batting average of .228 in his first 18 starts has jumped to .303 over the last seven. He's averaging more pitches per inning, too, one reason why four of his last seven starts have ended after just five innings.
Manager Mike Matheny, while acknowledging that Martinez's workload is a point of organizational focus, was hesitant to assert causation.
"We think he's going to finish just as strong as he started," Matheny said. "We could throw a whole bunch of things into the possibilities of why [the recent struggles], but he's still giving us a chance every time he gets out there."
The Cardinals have cloaked some of Martinez's blips by winning four of his last seven starts. And it hasn't all been bad during that stretch. Martinez pitched a career-high eight innings in an Aug. 11 win over Pittsburgh, and he retired 13 straight after one tumultuous inning in an Aug. 27 start against Arizona.
After a two-run first on Friday, Martinez held the Pirates scoreless until Starling Marte's two-out double in the fifth. He kept the game manageable despite not having good feel for his sinker and having to rely more heavily on his changeup.
Matheny also suggested that Martinez may have been affected by being too strong from the longer-than-usual layoff. Martinez agreed.
"I feel good," said Martinez, speaking through a translator. "I want to finish strong and be ready for opportunities in the playoffs. Before the year I was ready [to be a starter] and training really hard in the Dominican [Republic]. I was mentally prepared coming into the season and knew something like this could happen. I feel all right."
The question, now, is how do the Cardinals feel about it?
Martinez long ago eclipsed his career high in innings (103 2/3 in 2014, including the Minors and postseason) and sits at 159 2/3 with four weeks remaining in the regular season. The Cardinals will look for additional opportunities to rest Martinez, hoping that can help him save strength for whatever role he may fill in the postseason.
"We know giving him the extra rest anytime we can give it is the right thing to do," Matheny said. "If the results don't look right in the back end, so be it. That's what we have to do to keep these guys healthy and hopefully keep them strong."