Martinez battles flu during first loss of 2016

Cardinals right-hander strikes out eight over 6 2/3 innings

Martinez battles flu during first loss of 2016

ST. LOUIS -- Before leaving the ballpark on Saturday, right-hander Carlos Martinez encouraged manager Mike Matheny to start formulating a Plan B. Stricken with the same respiratory illness that had sidelined by Kevin Siegrist and Kolten Wong on the team's road trip, Martinez was pretty certain he'd be too weak to make his scheduled start.

Despite having lost 5-to-10 pounds, he did wake up on Sunday feeling improved enough that he asked Matheny to let him try. And given the circumstances Martinez did OK until a late stumble halted his back-and-forth duel with Max Scherzer and let the game spiral into a 6-1 loss to the Nationals.

"Physically, I felt a little tired," Martinez said through a nagging cough. "But I really wasn't thinking about my health. I was thinking about grinding it out and competing."

Following a sensational 4-0 April, in which he showcased himself as a budding front-line starter, Martinez made his first start of May burdened with potential distractions. Adding to the exhaustion already inflicted by his illness was an unexpected trip to Florida on Friday to deal with a legal matter.

That was related to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a West Palm Beach woman who alleges that Martinez entered a romantic relationship with her and knowingly gave her sexually transmitted diseases. She is seeking more than $1.5 million in damages. The lawsuit, which was filed on April 21, became public on Friday.

"I'm pretty sure that I'm healthy," Martinez said, denying the allegations. "I'm pretty sure that I'm feeling good. I know who I am. At the same time, it's not part of my job [to focus on the legal issue]. … I just focus on doing my job. That's my main goal. Everything outside is out of my hands. The only thing I can control is to come here and help my team to win. That's my main focus. I really have nothing else to say about it."

Early in Sunday's game, Martinez showed no signs of weakness or a straying focus. He held the Nationals to one hit -- a Scherzer single -- through his first five innings and notched his eighth strikeout to end the sixth. Two singles cost him a sixth-inning run, but it was a pair of seventh-inning homers that ran him out of the game.

Nats hit back-to-back home runs

Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa drove consecutive pitches into the seats to put Washington ahead by four.

"They went out there and made pretty good swings on those pitches," added Martinez. "I feel pretty good because those are the pitches I want to throw."

Matheny declined to attribute the Martinez's late fade to fatigue.

"Up until that point, he was extremely good," Matheny said. "He came out sharp right from the top. He had one of the best fastballs he's had yet. His command of his offspeed stuff was sharp. One inning just got him."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. 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.