MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Cardinals excited about Martinez breaking out

Cardinals excited about Martinez breaking out

MILWAUKEE -- This was much more Cardinal-like.

Carlos Martinez, who in five previous May starts was 0-5 with a 6.84 ERA, was exactly what the Cardinals wanted him to be Monday, as he shut out the Brewers for eight innings with a powerful, dominating performance.

Even more encouraging for the Cards was Martinez's start represented a turn through the entire St. Louis rotation with nobody pitching any less than capably and in some cases pitching extraordinarily well.

Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, had performed well against the Nationals in a series completed Sunday. Monday, on a splendid, 80-degree Memorial Day at Miller Park, it was Martinez's turn.

He essentially returned to the form that he had demonstrated in April when he went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA. His eight innings led the way as the Cardinals defeated the Brewers, 6-0. Martinez allowed five hits, all of them singles, walked just one and struck out eight.

His velocity reached as high as 100 mph, in the sixth inning. One sinking fastball checked in at 98.

"That was phenomenal," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's who he can be. He can be as dominating as anybody in the game when he puts it all together.

"He had everything he needed. He used his breaking ball, even featured his curveball. His changeup was good, his slider was tough to pick up. And he had a plus-plus fastball."

For Martinez, the key to this performance was a pervasive feeling of focus and calmness on the mound.

"My main focus was to stay calm and stay focused on home plate, and this was the result -- a great game," Martinez said through an interpreter.

Asked the difference between this start and the previous outings in which he had struggled, Martinez responded that he found a tempo that worked for him.

"It was simply rhythm, I think that was the difference," Martinez said. "And a big factor in this was staying calm, the fact that if I threw a bad pitch to just stay in the game and stay focused. It was a mental adjustment, not mechanical or physical, because I think I have control of that."

"For as hard as he throws, he's still a feel pitcher," Matheny said. "It's also just feeling comfortable on the mound. Once that happens, his stuff is going to take over. It's just a confidence thing. A little bit of success is going to be key for him in finding that spot where he can just roll."

Martinez certainly rolled on Monday. With all five starting pitchers working well through the rotation's last round and Martinez pitching superbly in his turn, the outlook could brighten for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals' identity had changed this season. From a run-prevention operation in the past, the Cardinals had been forced to outscore people. From leading both leagues in team ERA last season, they were 10th in that category in the National League after 51 games this season. On the other hand, this season they lead the league in runs scored.

"They've generally been a team that's been very difficult to score against," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I think they've flipped it a little bit this year. Obviously, they're scoring a lot of runs, but teams have scored more against them.

"It's different in that sense, but the personnel aren't different, so it's hard to see a huge difference."

The Cardinals didn't expect to see a huge difference in their pitching in 2016, either. For the Cardinals, pitching well is the norm and the only acceptable standard of accomplishment.

"We've got a staff that everybody wanted to throw up there as one of the top staffs in baseball in the offseason," Matheny said. "We make sure our guys don't forget that's something that they earned, you don't just get that. That's the kind of staff that we should be. Just putting all the pieces together, hopefully, we can ride it once it gets going. This is the first time it's really looked right, so it's nice to see."

With three straight division titles and 287 regular-season victories, the best record in baseball over that period, the Cardinals have been a multi-dimensional team. But no aspect of their game has been more important than effective starting pitching.

"You need all those components together, but this is one we've come to expect around here," Matheny said. "Our starters have done such a nice job. But when you don't have it, it's pretty obvious, the ramifications, how it beats up your 'pen and the stress it puts on your offense.

"We believe we have the kind of starting staff that should be very consistently keeping us in games."

For the last five starts this is the way it has worked. And on Memorial Day, Martinez went one step beyond that to dominate a game for the Cardinals.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.