When Jaime Garcia was sidelined with a shoulder issue during spring training, Carlos Martinez battled Joe Kelly for the job of No. 5 starter. Even though Martinez out-pitched Kelly during the abbreviated audition of spring-training exhibitions, manager Mike Matheny named Kelly the fifth starter and the club relegated Martinez to the bullpen, where he was to fill the role of setup man. Both Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak gave every indication that the club wanted to bank innings (like they did with Michael Wacha in 2013) and that Martinez might join the rotation at a later point during the season.
The first opportunity to install Martinez in the starting rotation presented itself on April 16, a date that was clearly far earlier in the season than the Cardinals had hoped a rotation spot would need filling. Kelly pulled up lame while running the bases, his hamstring torn. On the one hand, Martinez—who had pitched so well during his spring-training competition with Kelly—seemed the obvious choice to replace the now-injured fifth starter. On the other, the Cards' roster situation back then made such a move more complicated.
At the time, Jason Motte was on the disabled list, still not all the way back from the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2013 season before it even began. The Cards were shuffling through Triple-A relievers who Matheny refused to use unless the game was out of hand. Martinez combined with closer Trevor Rosenthal and lefty setup man Kevin Siegrist to give Matheny a relief security blanket. And Matheny was leaning on the trio he dubbed "the Big Three" often in the season's early days.
The Cardinals also had southpaw Tyler Lyons starting every fifth day for Memphis (and on the same schedule as Kelly no less). In more than a few organizations, Lyons would've been competing for (if not installed in) the opening-day MLB rotation. He was positioned as the Cards No. 6 starter, the arm they would call on in case of injury. And so the Redbirds did.
Matheny justified the decision to call up Lyons as the Kelly fill-in without mentioning Martinez's swing mechanics. Lyons was conditioned as a starter, on the same schedule as Kelly, and ready to start a game or two. The club expected Kelly to return to the rotation sooner rather than later, and he did not want to yo-yo Martinez between starting and relief.
Sixty days later, a lot has changed.
Kelly is still on the DL because of his hamstring tear. His replacement, Lyons, had a DL stint of his own due to a shoulder injury and has just started throwing again in game action for Memphis. At the time Lyons went down, the Cardinals didn't seem to seriously consider Martinez as a replacement. Instead, Garcia returned from his own disabling to replace Lyons. While both Kelly and Lyons are seemingly progressing nicely, neither is ready to step in for the hurting wagonmaker.
A scan of the non-Lyons minor-league options doesn't reveal many other palatable choices. For starters, none are on the 40-man at present. Perhaps the most intriguing name is 2013 draftee Marco Gonzales, who recently graduated to Double-A and has had a nice start to his upper-minors career there. But to hold the polished Gonzales, who has notched 33 1/3 innings in his career above A-ball, is as much an indictment of the Triple-A rotation as it is an endorsement of Gonzales.
Simply put—Martinez is the best option at the moment to make a fill-in start for Wainwright. And part of the reason for that is his fall from bullpen grace. Martinez has been yo'd from his setup man gig to long relief. This has apparently made more palatable to the Cardinals yo-ing Martinez from the bullpen for an apparent one-time start in place of the tendinitis-stricken Wainwright.
Matheny explained the decision to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch:
"I think it's part of keeping to our word," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've had other opportunities that didn't seem quite right, where the role he was filling in the bullpen didn't really allow this opportunity to bounce him into a start.
"We told him to keep working and he was going to get a chance. He still has a big role for us in the bullpen, but this is an opportunity that is also a necessity. We need somebody to step up and be able to take this start for Adam. We believe Carlos can do a good job of that."
Martinez will throw between 50 and 60 pitches, then turn the game over to a seven-man bullpen that includes the recently promoted Nick Greenwood, a lefthanded non-prospect who has put together a solid if unimpressive minor-league career.
We finally get our heart's desire. Martinez will start. Kind of.