PHOENIX -- Tuesday night in Arizona was a display of how far Carlos Martinez has come as a pitcher and how deftly catcher Yadier Molina has learned to marshal the young right-hander’s devastating arsenal.
Against a powerful and aggressive Arizona Diamondbacks lineup, Martinez adopted a quieter approach. The change of style was startling even from the intimate viewpoint of the St. Louis Cardinals' bench. Martinez on the mound is typically a blend of exuberance and good old country hardball.
He attacked them softly on Tuesday, surgically working through Arizona’s lineup for eight shutout innings of the Cardinals’ 8-2 win. He mixed in off-speed pitches early in counts to keep Arizona’s first-pitch fastball hitters frustrated all night.
“They didn’t even hit the ball hard very often and they are a good-hitting team,” Cardinals first baseman Brandon Moss said. “When you do that here that’s impressive. He’s been pitching amazing.”
If you were to line up the ERA’s of the Cardinals’ five starting pitchers, the team’s No. 5 starter -- Martinez -- leads the pack at 1.93, followed by No. 2 starter Michael Wacha at 2.82, No. 4 starter Jaime Garcia at 3.24, No. 3 starter Mike Leake at 5.64 and No. 1 starter Adam Wainwright at 7.25.
That nearly inverted picture is surprising only in that Wainwright and Leake have struggled through the first month. After Wainwright was anointed to pitch Opening Day, the Cardinals could have lined up the other four starters in any order and felt justified. They certainly had high hopes for Martinez after he posted a 3.01 ERA in 179⅔ innings last season.
After he finished last season with a sore right shoulder, the Cardinals shut him down, asked him to rehab at their Florida training site most of the winter and will remain cognizant of his innings as the season progresses.
“I applaud the organization for being very cautious for the long-term care of this kid and not just for what we need right then and we’ll continue to be smart,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We took our time this spring and Carlos did his part and is just getting better.”
The feel Martinez displayed and the game plan Molina deployed allowed the Cardinals to get early-count outs, a surprising number of them in the air. Martinez (4-0) had just four strikeouts, but he also needed just 105 pitches to get through eight innings. It was his best start of the season, but all four starts have been quality.
The offensive stars Tuesday -- Moss and Stephen Piscotty each hit a double and a home run -- even credited him in small part for all the scoring. He allowed them to get back in the batter’s box without losing their timing.
“Especially his off-speed stuff was filthy in the zone for sure,” Piscotty said. “He made innings shorter and that keeps us fresh, and when you do that it even helps the offense. He deserves a lot of credit for tonight.”