Cards appear to have starting rotation lined up

Cards appear to have starting rotation lined up

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Other than to confirm that Adam Wainwright will make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start, manager Mike Matheny has remained predictably coy about the Cardinals' early April rotation plans. But what he won't verbally announce can seemingly be gleaned from a simple study of the schedule.

With Carlos Martinez's 2 2/3-inning start on Thursday in a 5-4 loss to the Tigers, the Cardinals completed their second full turn through their projected regular-season rotation. The order will remain unchanged over the next week, too, an indication that the organization has things lined up as it wants for the start of the season.

That would put Michael Wacha in line to start the second game of the regular season and draw the start for the April 11 home opener. Following him, in order, would be Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia and Martinez.

Spring: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

The Cardinals don't intend to manipulate that rotation, either, despite the high concentration of off-days in early April. Following their season opener on April 3, the Cardinals have three off-days scattered within a nine-day period. That means they could get by without a fifth starter until as late as April 18.

But with none of their starters having had a setback to this point, Matheny said he sees little need to skip one. Instead, he hopes his pitchers will welcome the extra early rest.

"We have faith in the starters that we have," Matheny said. "We like every one of them and the chances they give us to win."

It's been Martinez's progress, in particular, that has driven the Cardinals in the direction of opening the season with a five-man rotation. Despite beginning camp under a modified throwing program as he recovered from a late-season shoulder injury, Martinez has essentially caught up to the rest of the team's starters.

On Thursday, in what was his second start of Grapefruit League play, Martinez threw 56 pitches (32 strikes) over 2 2/3 innings. He showcased a sharp changeup, searched for fastball command, and, perhaps most encouragingly, maintained his strength through the entirety of the outing.

"The therapy that I was doing in the offseason ... the work paid off," Martinez said, speaking through a translator after allowing two runs on four hits and striking out five. "I feel [strong] on the mound right now. I'm at 96, 97 [mph] velocity-wise, and I'm not feeling my body breaking down."

Enough games remain in the Grapefruit League season for Martinez to make two additional starts. Because he isn't likely to make his first regular-season start until April 9, the Cardinals will consider leaving him in Florida to pitch in a Minor League game or a simulated game once the Grapefruit League season ends.

Jaime Garcia, who would have 11 days off between in his final spring start and first regular-season start as the schedule stands now, is also a candidate to remain in Florida for additional work. They would then fly to Pittsburgh to join the club for Opening Day.

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.