Martinez makes rotation battle 'interesting'

2014-03-12T16:40:00Z 2014-03-14T13:14:09Z Martinez makes rotation battle 'interesting'By Rick Hummel 314-340-8196

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. • Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, while noting before today's game that the people expected to make his club were playing to his satisfaction, said he had reminded his team that "we want to make sure we make winning a tradition, even in these games."

The Cardinals played their best game in a week — it was also their first win in a week — when they beat the New York Mets 6-4 in a baseball exhibition.

It began with the starter. Carlos Martinez, trying to gain a stranglehold on a rotation job, worked four scoreless innings for the Cardinals, allowing just two hits and fanning three.

There was small ball. The first two Cardinals runs came on infield outs after runners had been moved into position by other infield outs. The last two runs came on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch.

There was big ball. Stephen Piscotty, who has had four extra-base hits in his last five at-bats, doubled and tripled. The three-base hit preceded Kolten's Wong long homer, his second in two days, for the middle two runs in the seventh.

Veteran non-roster reliever Pat Neshek, who has a good chance to make the club, pitched out of a tight spot in the seventh.  Catcher Tony Cruz threw out a runner in the ninth and Kevin Siegrist worked a scoreless ninth. The Cardinals finally had their third Grapefruit League win in 12 games (two ties).

Martinez has given up just two runs in 10 innings this spring. But no one is saying whether he will emerge as a starter or remain as a dominant setup man.

"Start," said Martinez, when asked his preference.

"It's a question still to be determined," said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist. "We know what Carlos can do in the eighth inning. We're kind of watching to see how he handles himself as a starter. 

"At some point in his career, he's going to be a dynamite starter. But what makes the Cardinals a better team this year?"

Lilliquist said that former closer Jason Motte, on a faster track than expected after Tommy John elbow surgery a year ago, will face hitters for the first time on Friday in a batting practice scenario. He might be the eighth-inning man sometime in April.

Manager Mike Matheny said he would continue to employ six starters "for a good while" during the second half of the exhibition schedule. That would include Joe Kelly, who potentially could be unseated if Martinez starts.

Matheny, asked before the game about the percentages on the 22-year-old Martinez starting, said, "I can't put percentages on it. The big picture is that he can pitch.

"It's not worth him spending time on it. I understand and appreciate he would like to start. We've got a lot of guys in that situation. But if he gets people out, he's going to make it very interesting."

After the game, Matheny said, "He's done what he could do." 

Below are the updates Rick Hummel posted during today's game:

Piscotty, Wong have a little extra  

The Cardinals faced off with a familiar foe, ex-Chicago Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth, and rookies Stephen Piscotty and Kolten Wong got much the better of him in a two-run seventh that pushed the Cardinals' lead to 4-0 today over the New York Mets.

Piscotty, who has two doubles, a triple and a home run in his last five at-bats, legged out a three-base hit with one out. Wong then walloped a long homer, his second in two days.

After starting out nothing for 10, Wong has gone seven for 13. 

The Mets rallied for three in the seventh off Keith Butler, who was victimized by a bloop double that should have been caught but then allowed several well-struck balls. Veteran non-roster righthander Pat Neshek, who has a strong chance to make the club, stopped the surge by getting two ground-ball outs.

Martinez blanks Mets for four innings 

Although he allowed several hard-hit balls in his fourth and final inning, Cardinals righthander Carlos Martinez continued his quest to nail down a spot in the rotation with an impressive, scoreless outing today against the New York Mets.

Martinez gave up just two hits and walked one while fanning three in throwing a spring-high 62 pitches. For 10 innings this spring, he has given up only two runs.

The Cardinals maintained a 2-0 lead into the seventh. Righthander Seth Maness, who had allowed 10 hits and six runs in 4 2/3 innings, threw two groundouts in the fifth, both niftily fielded by shortstop Pete Kozma. Lefhander Sam Freeman, displaying a good breaking ball and fastball, struck out two in the sixth.

Cards take 2-0 lead via small ball 

The Cardinals, who hadn't won an exhibition game in a week, played solid fundamental baseball early in today's exhibition game with the New York Mets. They scratched out an unearned run in each of the first two innings, abetted by a sacrifice bunt and three groundouts.

Matt Carpenter, who had been hitting just .111, beat out an infield hit to lead off the game and moved up on a passed ball. Peter Bourjos sacrificed Carpenter to third and he scored on Shane Robinson's grounder to short with the infield back.

In the second, hot-hitting rookie Stephen Piscotty doubled to left center off lefthander John Lannan and went to third as Kolten Wong beat out a grounder to the right side.

Randal Grichuk was safe when third baseman David Wright couldn't handle a liner and Tony Cruz's double-play grounder rather quelled the uprising but it provided another run.

Carlos Martinez sailed through the New York first, fanning Wright and inducing two ground-ball outs. He allowed a two-out double to Eric Campbell and a walk to Taylor Teagarden in the second but got Juan Lagares to bounce into a forceout.

Martinez then had a perfect third and appeared headed for four or even five innings.  

Martinez makes third start  

Carlos Martinez will make his third start of the spring today for the Cardinals against the New York Mets.

Martinez, who made just one start last season for the Cardinals before finding a postseason niche as their top setup man, has held opposing hitters to a .150 average for six spring innings.

The regulars on the trip here today are third baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Matt Adams with potential regulars in center fielder Peter Bourjos and second baseman Kolten Wong also in the lineup against Mets lefthander John Lannan.

The Cardinals are 2-7-2 in Grapefruit League competition, having not won in their last six games.

Cardinals lineup:

Carpenter 3b

Bourjos cf

Robinson lf

Adams 1b

Piscotty rf

Wong 2b

Grichuk dh

Cruz c

Kozma ss

(Martinez p)

Rick is a baseball writer/columnist at the Post-Dispatch 

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Baseball writers Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel cover the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch and They'll provide daily Cardinals updates here, from the start of spring training through the end of the season and beyond.

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