ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals can only hope that a special season for first-year starter Carlos Martinez did not come to an abrupt and unfortunate end on Friday night, when he walked ever so slowly to the dugout, his glove over his face, seemingly as an attempt to hide the raw emotion.
The severity of the right shoulder tightness that prompted Martinez's exit seven pitches into what ended up as a 4-3 Brewers win will become clearer after an MRI exam and further evaluation on Saturday. It seems unlikely that Martinez would make his next scheduled start on Wednesday, given this latest scare and the pitcher's already heavy workload as a first-year starter. But the club will have a key role for him in October, if he can go.
Early strength tests administered by the team's medical staff came back with positive results, suggesting this may be more fatigue related than anything else. Nevertheless, Matheny acknowledge it was "too early" to set expectations.
Martinez, using teammate Jon Jay as a translator, said afterward that shoulder tightness first became an issue in his Sunday start against the Cubs. Martinez pitched 6 2/3 innings in a win that day and did not inform the medical staff of any discomfort.
"I didn't say anything because I thought it was normal," Martinez said. "I just wanted to pitch through it."
The 24-year-old right-hander said his shoulder felt looser when he threw a side session earlier this week, but it did not respond well from the get-go on Friday.
"I tried to throw today and knew it didn't feel completely right, but I thought I could pitch through it," Martinez said. "After I threw the first pitch, I knew there was something wrong."
His first pitch, a fastball, registered at only 88 mph. It was another red flag for catcher Tony Cruz, who was already on alert.
"I found it kind of weird warming up; he didn't throw that many pitches," Cruz said. "Something just seemed off. After the [leadoff] double, I looked up and it was 89 [mph]. That is usually not him. I gave him a couple more to see if maybe it was just something where he was trying to find himself, and I saw him grimace. That's when I went to the mound."
Matheny, who agreed that Martinez "looked different from the beginning," and assistant athletic trainer Chris Conroy followed. The visit was brief. Matheny took the ball from Martinez and gave it to Tyler Lyons.
"He's a fighter," Cruz said. "He actually wanted to stay in after they came out and asked him. ... Hopefully it's nothing big. We could use him."
This was expected to be Martinez's penultimate start of the regular season. He was seeking his 15th win and had held Milwaukee to one run over 15 innings this season. Martinez entered the game having already thrown 90 more innings than he did for the Cardinals last season. The Cards have gone 22-6 in his starts.
Now they'll have to wait a day to learn if he'll make another.
"I feel like I will make another start and I'm comfortable knowing I'm going to work hard and do whatever it takes," Martinez said. "I don't feel a lot of pain. I just feel a little bit of weakness, but I'm not too, too concerned about it."