Posted on August 14, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The St. Louis Cardinals are continuing the growing trend of moving prominent starting pitchers to the bullpen. However, this move is more strategic than punitive. The club has announced that Carlos Martinez will spend the rest of the season in the bullpen once he returns from the DL. Martinez has been sidelined since the end of July because of a shoulder strain. He’s had three separate stints on the DL this year after oblique issues earlier in the season.
Martinez is expected to return to the rotation next season. However, moving him to the bullpen for the rest of 2018 will help him return from injury sooner. Martinez threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Monday as he builds up strength in his shoulder. If he returns as a reliever, he’ll require a much shorter minor league rehab assignment once he’s ready to pitch in games.
“If you’re going to go down that starting path and you’re starting at ground zero, the likelihood of him being back would be sometime in mid-September,” explained Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak. “We’ve done that twice this year and ended up in the same place after a few starts.”
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Injuries have limited Martinez to just 18 starts this season. In those starts, he’s 6-6 with a 3.41 ERA. He was brilliant throughout April and the early part of May until the injuries started to hinder his performance. Since then, he’s been solid but not quite as dominant as he’s been in the past. In shorter stints, Martinez may be able to become the dominant pitcher he’s been in the past.
The St. Louis bullpen could certainly use the help. The Cardinals are in the bottom third of the National League in bullpen ERA. The signing of closer Greg Holland didn’t work out. Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson have also struggled this year amidst injuries. Thus, the Cardinals have been limited in the back end of the bullpen. Martinez, while he may not be the closer right away, could be just what the Cardinals need late in games.
“We’ve got another weapon that we can use when it’s necessary,” said interim Manager Mike Shildt. “If that helps take the strain off other guys, then it will.
Surprisingly, the St. Louis rotation has held together well despite a rash of injuries. Veteran Adam Wainright is just now starting a rehab assignment after going to the DL in May with elbow trouble. Michael Wacha has been on the DL for nearly two months with an oblique strain. With Martinez also missing time, the Cardinals have lacked three key starters for much of the year.
In the absence of those guys, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty have pitched like top-of-the-rotation starters. John Gant and Austin Gomber have also made surprising contributions to the back end of the rotation. If either Wacha or Wainwright returns at some point, it’ll be even easier for the Cardinals to get by without Martinez in the rotation.
Despite all the injuries to their pitching staff, the Cardinals have suddenly become the hottest team in baseball. They have won six in a row, pulling within five games of the Cubs in the NL Central and two games of a wild-card spot. If Martinez can come back and improve the bullpen, it could help the Cardinals continue their late-season charge toward a playoff spot.