Cards think tweak in routine could help Martinez

Cards think tweak in routine could help Martinez

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have encouraged reliever Carlos Martinez to tweak his warmup routine, hopeful that a few changes could help him take the mound with crisper command. Where the Cardinals are not yet ready to make changes, though, is Martinez's role.

A day after Martinez blew his third save in his last nine appearances, manager Mike Matheny said he remains committed to using Martinez in a high-leverage, late-inning spots. Martinez and Kevin Siegrist have been Matheny's go-to setup men for closer Trevor Rosenthal since the season began.

That was, however, before the Cardinals got Jason Motte back and before Pat Neshek emerged as another legitimate late-inning option.

"We keep looking at opportunities to teach him the things we're trying to teach him without shattering his confidence, too," Matheny said, when asked about a potential, even if temporary, change in role for Martinez. "Let's be honest about this -- after he gives up a couple runs, his stuff is untouchable. That's the kind of stuff you want at the last part of the game. He does need to get some confidence going. There may be opportunities in the middle innings to help with that if everybody is healthy and throwing the ball well. But right now, we want him to know we have faith in him that he'll get the job done in big innings."

Instead of yanking Martinez out of his role, the Cardinals are working with him to improve his urgency. The belief is that teams are able to ambush Martinez before he can settle in. That was the case in the eighth inning on Wednesday, when he allowed a leadoff single and home run to the first two Arizona batters he faced.

Over his last nine appearances, Martinez has had more walks (four) than strikeouts (three) and has allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 7 2/3 innings.

"I think Carlos is in one of those phases where he hasn't been hit that much in his whole career, so it's hard for him to understand what he has to do to make it work when he's going about it exactly how he has in the past," Matheny said. "An opportunity for him to get better is for him to figure out, 'OK, is there something I can do a little different as I get in here against the first few batters? What can I do that maybe I haven't done in the past, but maybe I do now? I haven't needed it in the past, but now I do.'

"I think that's what he's trying to put together. I think a lot of that is that urgency right from the top. Do you try to do that when a guy is having success? The answer is no. You wait until he goes through times like this to start trying to team him different options."

Matheny downplayed the need for Martinez to revamp pitch selection or sequencing, though he did offer that Martinez could benefit from relying on his slider more often to hitters who thrive on the fastball. Otherwise, the Cardinals believe Martinez's four-seam fastball and cutter should be enough. He has thrown those two pitches 69 percent of the time this season.

"To go up and say, 'You're going to have to be a four-pitch pitcher when you come in in the eighth inning,' is a huge mistake because there are some guys who simply can't handle what he throws," Matheny said. "It's knowing which guys you have to mix it up a little more to. Really what it comes down to is location more than anything else."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.