Carlos Martinez’s last stand? Why it’s time for the Cardinal pitcher to step up or get out


Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Carlos Martinez is running out of time to produce as a St. Louis Cardinal starting pitcher. As 2021’s rugged dawn continues to set over a struggling Cardinals team, one of their longest-standing pitchers on the active roster finds himself in perilous waters before his start tonight against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks.

Going into the season, Martinez was all set to reaffirm himself in the rotation, helping cover up the uncertainty of Miles Mikolas and the loss of Dakota Hudson to Tommy John surgery and recovery. The chance to shine again was there. To say things haven’t gone according to plan is like saying there’s only a small accident on the highway. With his seat starting to warm, Mike Shildt needs Martinez, a longtime talented yet troubled pitcher, to step up. John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch, already setting gears in motions for trade deadline action, need him to be who he was supposed to be. The team needs Martinez, aka “El Gallo,” to put his foot down and command the game-or find himself a new jersey come July.

I don’t think Martinez makes it on this team to the actual deadline if he continues to throw away opportunities. For a guy who always wanted to be a starter, he’s not taking advantage of a dire stretch where the ace of the rotation is down in Jack Flaherty and the oldest pitcher in baseball-Adam Wainwright-is the only starter collecting wins. If there was ever a time for the soon-to-be 30-year-old to do his job, it’s now. If you were a gambler, betting on Martinez getting it together isn’t exactly a wise move. Just look at the stats.

In 14 starts this season, Martinex has pitched into the seventh inning just three times. In his last seven starts, his earned run average is near 10.00 — essentially meaning he gives up over a run per inning thus far. It’s like watching a bad driver try to go somewhere in a thunderstorm and waiting for the eventual crash. It’s not just a pitching mechanic issue; Martinez’s struggles include mental lapses. He easily comes undone on the pitching mound; if Wainwright buckles down and tightens his focus, Martinez’s movements become more erratic and lazy. He slouches on the mound, fires the baseball as if he has no idea where it’s going, and looks about as commanding as a detour sign off a highway in downtown St. Louis.


He’s walked 33 batters against 49 strikeouts, which is a red flag. In the month of June, he’s allowed 30 earned runs in just over 19 innings. Most of his recent blowups happen very early on, before the defense and lineup can get their footing. The Los Angeles Dodgers put up ten runs on him during a June 2 start where Martinez didn’t make it out of the first inning. Another start in Atlanta spelled similar trouble, with eight runs allowed and only three innings completed. If you take away a stellar outing against the Cubs this month, the last good outing he had was a month ago against… Arizona.

So, tonight could potentially be a make-or-break evening for him. The D-Backs are bad, maybe even worse than bad. They can’t hit but they allow tons of runs, and their pitching isn’t formidable at all. Take Monday for instance. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo opted to let his reliever take an at-bat with the bases loaded and the game tied at one run apiece. Bally Sports Midwest announcer Dan McLaughlin was baffled by the move, which looked like a clear sign of a team tanking. Possibly, a team just wanting to get through a road trip.

This should be catnip for Martinez. A place to right the ship and set the course. If not, you are bound to see one of two things with regards to the starter: convert him back into a reliever since that’s where he is most effective in recent years or turn him loose. That could be via a DFA (designated for assignment) that could see him clear waivers to work on his stuff down at Memphis. That is unlikely, especially with the team’s needs right now. If not that route, you could see a trade. The team can’t make a big trade right now because opposing teams know their needs and could gut Mozeliak and company in a trade. But a smaller transaction involving a problematic pitcher is definitely in the cards.

Martinez is still throwing deadly cut fastballs and exploding sliders. He can still make a hitter look foolish and buckle a couple sets of knees with his offerings at the plate. But his unpredictable streak and failure to rise to the occasion all point to him spending the rest of his career elsewhere–especially after 2021. When asked years ago what separated Martinez from Cy Young status, Yadier Molina was quick to answer: “mentality.” Molina is no longer a lifesaver for Martinez on the mound. The young man has to figure it out or find another place to throw baseballs.

The patience is running out fast. This team can’t afford to give a start to someone who may not have a future and can’t regularly pitch even four innings. Before the fireworks go off this week, you could see some roster fireworks. For years, I’ve been a tireless supporter of Martinez, a pitcher with real talent. But eventually, you something from that commodity, or you send it packing.

Pitch well or start packing, Carlos Martinez. It’s time to rise to the occasion. Does he have it in him? I doubt it, but baseball has shown us crazier things, so fasten your seatbelt just a little tighter and hold on for a bumpy wave.