Carlos Martinez has had a variety of injury problems over the last few years, as well as issues keeping his shoulder strong enough to last a full season. Due to this, Martinez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, making just 23 starts in the last three seasons while also making 60 appearances out of the bullpen. However, there is hope that Carlos Martinez can be a starting pitcher again in 2021.
To begin with, it is encouraging that Martinez has taken the initiative to pitch in the Dominican Winter League in order to prepare his arm for a starter’s workload. Martinez threw about 60 pitches in his first start, and then around 85 in his second start. From these two appearances, it is clear that Martinez still has what it takes in order to be a starting pitcher. He struggled a little bit in his first start because his command was not sharp, which is to be expected. However, in his second start, he looked much better. His sinker and his slider had plenty of movement, and he worked efficiently while carving up the opposing lineup over six innings. It is a good sign for Martinez that he still has his pitches working well and that he can still last six innings and over 80 pitches.
One of the clearest signs of Martinez’s struggles in 2020 was a drop in velocity. In 2019, Martinez’s fastball velocity was 95.6 mph. In 2017, his last full season as a starter, his velocity was also 95.6 mph. However, in 2020, it dropped to just 92.8 mph. This was not a good sign for Martinez as it was clear that he was not the same pitcher that he used to be. However, if he can remain dedicated to returning to the rotation, then he can strengthen his arm, which could allow for some of his velocity to return. Additionally, all of Martinez’s pitches (except for his slider) lost movement as well. This can help to explain his struggles in his five starts last season as a drop in velocity as well as movement is certainly not helpful.
The Dominican Winter League does not give pitch velocity, so it is difficult to tell if Martinez’s velocity has returned. However, it does appear that his movement is back, and he certainly looks sharper than he did last season. Even though he is pitching against lesser competition, this is still an encouraging sign.
If Martinez can prove in Spring Training that he is ready for a starter’s workload, then the Cardinals could benefit in 2021. Martinez used to be the team’s ace, but if he can even return to being a solid pitcher, then he will provide much more value to the team and give the Cardinals a better chance at winning the division. However, if Martinez wants to do this then he will need to prove that his arm can handle a starter’s workload, and that his velocity and pitch movement have returned to normal levels. If this is the case, then the Cardinals could have the old Carlos Martinez back, and that is certainly a good sign for the 2021 season.
A rotation headed by Jack Flaherty and something close to the old Carlos Martinez would give the Cardinals two solid pitchers while Miles Mikolas and Kwang-Hyun Kim give steady innings. Additionally, with the Cardinals looking likely to lean on pitching and defense once again in 2021, any increase in production that Carlos Martinez can provide will be valuable.