Carlos Martinez reported to St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp with a new number and a resolve.
To honor his close friend Oscar Taveras, who died in an automobile accident in October, Martinez took Taveras’ uniform number 18. On the field, the trade of Shelby Miller to Atlanta last off-season meant that Martinez would engage in a three-way battle for the fifth rotation spot.
Martinez opened the regular season in the rotation for the first time. But he had help. Had front-runner Jaime Garcia not been injured in late March, Martinez would likely have been assigned to the bullpen, where he spent the majority of 2014.
By the time of his season-ending injury on September 25, the 23-year-old had cemented his spot among St. Louis’ starting five. Martinez ranked among the National League leaders in wins (14, tied for seventh), winning percentage (67%, eighth) and quality starts (20, tied for 11th). The quality start string included 11 in a row from May 20-July 25, fourth-longest in the NL in 2015.
Martinez is known for strikeouts and delivered with a 9.23/9 IP mark that was eighth in the NL. In addition, his ability to keep the ball on the ground was a key factor in his success. He induced a career-best 19 double plays (0.95 GDP/ 9 IP, 10th in the NL) and his 55.3% ground ball rate was fifth in the league.
When the going got tough, Martinez was up for the challenge. He was second among NL pitchers with a .182 opponent batting average with runners in scoring position (29-for-159).
Martinez led all NL starters with a 28.6 percent stolen base rate. Only seven baserunners tried and just two were successful all season long in a measure of success that he shares with catcher Yadier Molina.
Martinez was a first-time National League All-Star, the winner of the “Final Vote” fan balloting.
A starter’s job is to put his team in a position to win the game and Martinez was best on the 2015 Cardinals staff. When he took the mound, St. Louis won 76 percent of the time. It seems pretty clear the team would not have reached the 100-win mark without him and his subsequent absence in the post-season definitely hurt.
Martinez’ season ended early in a start against the Milwaukee Brewers on September 25 in which threw only seven pitches due to what was called a shoulder strain. Surgery was not deemed necessary and he is currently rehabbing in Jupiter, Florida to be ready for spring training.
After his breakout 2015, expectations for Martinez will be even higher in 2016.
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