Martinez pitches like an ace vs. Brewers

Martinez pitches like an ace vs. Brewers

ST. LOUIS -- The expectations of an ace have trailed Carlos Martinez since he took the ball in the Cardinals' season opener one month ago. But for the first time since then, on Tuesday, Martinez truly looked like one.

Remarkably efficient early and downright stubborn late, Martinez equaled that Opening Night start with 7 1/3 scoreless innings in which the only costly blemish was an unearned run. His performance helped the Cardinals to a 2-1 win over Milwaukee and earned Martinez his first victory of the season.

That it happened the day after he ditched his silver-braided hairdo seems just coincidence. Of much more significance was the way Martinez recalibrated in order to contain a Brewers offense that had knocked him around for five runs less than two weeks earlier.

"I think what he did do today, he found out what he had before he left the bullpen [after warming up]," manager Mike Matheny said. "He saw that he had really good movement, but also that he had the velocity to go with the movement. I think he built his game around that."

Ranked among the league's strikeout leaders entering Tuesday, Martinez traded in punchouts for quick outs. He induced weak contact early, which netted him eight ground-ball outs as he retired 12 straight to begin the night.

Martinez reached for the strikeout when he needed it -- including a 98-mph fastball that got Orlando Arcia to go down swinging with the potential tying run at third in the seventh -- but was otherwise content with letting his defense do the work. It's how Martinez wrapped up six innings with a pitch count of 65.

"I really felt like my pitches were perfect today," Martinez said, speaking through a translator. "The movement on them was great. Today I felt 100 percent that I was in command of the game. I worked very hard to stay focused."

Wong's fantastic diving play

Martinez diversified his pitches in a way that left the Brewers repeatedly guessing. He threw his two-seam and four-seam fastballs 30 times apiece, and worked in 31 sliders, according to Statcast™. The slider, which Matheny described as "filthy," generated four swing-and-misses.

"We were pretty aggressive," Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw said. "He kept the ball down and got a lot of ground balls."

If not for a laborious seventh inning, Martinez may have had a chance for his first career complete game. But it took him 27 pitches to navigate through that inning, which was complicated by an error, wild pitch and some deep counts.

Otherwise, there was little to nitpick from a pitcher who found his way back to form after allowing 17 runs (15 earned) over his previous 21 1/3 innings.

"What he did was fantastic," Matheny said. "We're always preaching to him: 'What's keeping you from consistent performance? Is there something that gets in your way? And how can we fix that?'

"He just keeps getting closer to that all the time. I think he has a baseline of what he wants to come back to."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.