Cardinals rookie pitcher Carlos Martinez has been compared to the great Pedro Martinez. The reasons are obvious, if simplistic.
They have the same background (the Dominican Republic). They're righthanders. There’s a similar physical build (not tall, thin, and wiry). There’s a familiar arm action: a deceptively easy motion, followed by the release and explosive velocity.
After the Cardinals’ acclaimed prospect made his debut for Class A Quad Cities in 2011, manager Johnny Rodriguez didn’t hesitate to link Carlos to Pedro.
“I've been in baseball more than 30 years and he could be a No. 1 guy in St. Louis,” Rodriguez said after the game. “He reminds me of when I saw a young Pedro Martinez in (Triple A) Albuquerque in the early '90s. In fact, he shows me more than what Pedro did at his age, and you know how his career went.”
Later in the season Dyar Millar — then the Cardinals' minor league pitching coordinator — went there, too.
“Carlos has a special arm,” Miller said in June 2011. “It's quick. The ball flies out of his hand. He's athletic. He has a good future ahead of him. If he stays healthy and continues on the same path, he's going to be a 1-2-3 guy in the rotation in the Majors. He reminds me of Pedro Martinez. He's the same size and has the same type stuff.”
I’ll play along. I like the “Baby Pedro” nickname tagged on Carlos. It doesn’t entirely fit, of course. In his prospect days, the 5-11 Pedro Martinez was much skinnier, weighing less than 150 pounds. I’ve seen some old reports that listed Pedro the prospect at 135 pounds, which sounds a little farfetched. But I didn't see him, so... the Cardinals list Carlos Martinez at 6-0 and 185 pounds, which seems rather generous.
But I get it: two pitchers from the D.R., undersized, hard throwers. It may be unfair to put the Pedro expectations on Carlos Martinez, 21. After all, Pedro Martinez pitched 18 big-league seasons, threw nearly 2,800 innings, won 219 games, made eight All-Star Game rosters, and earned three Cy Young Awards.
Good luck, kid, in living up to that body of work.
But in looking at Pedro’s early major-league career, one thing immediately jumped out: his extensive workload as a rookie for the Dodgers in 1993.
Martinez was 21 in 1993. The Dodgers had fast-tracked him to the big club, giving him two appearances, including a start, as a 20-year-old late in the 1992 season.
After Martinez had that brief breaking-in phase, the Dodgers got him busy in 1993. Martinez was used early, often, and in every situation. He started two games. He pitched 63 games in relief. He made appearances in the middle innings, the seventh inning, the eighth inning. He even closed at times, picking up two saves.
The Dodgers weren't worried about handling the young Pedro with extra care; he pitched on consecutive days 14 times, and on one days’ rest 22 times. He was a regular presence.
At the end of the ’93 season Martinez had 107 innings in the book with a 10-5 record, 199 strikeouts and a 2.61 ERA. It was a terrific rookie campaign, one that got the charismatic RH on his way to a likely Hall of Fame career.
The Dodgers made a foolish trade before 1994, sending Martinez to Montreal for second baseman Delino DeShields.
Apparently the Dodgers’ front-office executives saw something they didn’t like; supposedly the combination of a slight frame and violent velocity spooked the Dodgers about Pedro’s long-term viability. Supposedly they feared arm injuries, breakdowns, and a short career. But in ’93 the Dodgers saw a special talent and put it to use.
The Cardinals accelerated Martinez to the big leagues this season, promoting him from Double A Springfield on May 3.
That represents one significant difference between Pedro and Carlos Martinez.
Pedro Martinez pitched 550 innings in the minors before getting The Call. Martinez had 172 innings of Triple A experience in preparation for a long stay in the majors.
Carlos Martinez pitched 259 innings in the minors before the Cardinals deemed him ready. Martinez made the jump after 83 innings in Double A. He hasn’t thrown a single pitch in Triple A. Similarities aside, his career trajectory wasn’t the same as Pedro’s.
That’s why I’m a little confused about the Cardinals’ plans for Carlos Martinez in 2013. He was summoned after a Mitchell Boggs’ meltdown in Milwaukee on May 2. The Cardinals obviously believed Martinez could enter the show, shoot some flames, and give the bullpen a formidable weapon for the late innings.
Indeed, Martinez appeared in two games right away. He pitched an inning in his debut at Milwaukee on May 3, then was brought in on May 5 for another inning against the Brewers.
After that, Martinez has pretty much remained seated. He didn’t pitch again until May 12. Since being utilized twice during the final three games of that series at Milwaukee, Martinez has gotten into only four of the last 14 games, throwing five innings total (including 1 2/3 mop-up innings Tuesday in the Cardinals' 10-2 win at San Diego).
Martinez is in a predictable bind here. The Cardinals are being cautious in their usage of Martinez. Manager Mike Matheny hasn’t brought Martinez into a game with runners on base. In his five appearances, the bases were clean when Martinez entered the action.
Matheny could have gone to Martinez in the sixth inning Monday night in San Diego but opted for Fernando Salas instead. Salas inherited two runners and a 2-1 lead in relief of starter Shelby Miller. He gave up a tying RBI single, walked a batter, and hit a batter to bring in another run. The Padres led 3-2 and would win 4-2.
Matheny didn’t want to push Martinez into a traffic-jam pitching situation, so Martinez sat and watched.
The Cardinals’ bullpen was relatively shorthanded Monday, with rookies Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness declared unavailable after recent frequent use. Martinez figured to have a role in Monday’s contest, but never got in.
Perhaps Matheny was saving Martinez for the seventh inning, or eighth inning. I don’t know. I’m not in San Diego and didn’t have the chance to ask Matheny the question.
I’m not suggesting that Martinez is the cure-all solution to the Cardinals’ general bullpen stress. Rosenthal is doing a terrific job in the eighth inning. Edward Mujica has been money in the ninth. Maness seems to be Matheny’s preferred choice for the seventh innings.
The manager now has Boggs back in service and — bing! — Boggs gave up a HR on his second pitch Monday after being recalled after a tuneup in Memphis.
Matheny loves him some Mitch Boggs, so prepare for more adventures. And Salas has been awful this season when coming into games with runners on. Which means, of course … Matheny continues to bring Salas into games with runners on. (More on this later, in the next serving of Bytes.)
Randy Choate is the designated lefty specialist.
I guess we could label Joe Kelly as the long-relief man, but he’s been pounded for a 7.36 ERA.
And what about Carlos Martinez? What’s his role, exactly? I have no idea. He doesn’t seem to have a role. He's resting — or maybe a better way to put it is "rusting." Martinez wasn't sharp in his most recent appearance, hitting two Brewers in Saturday's loss at Busch Stadium.
If Martinez doesn’t have a role, then he shouldn’t have a place in a major-league bullpen. He should be in the minors, at Triple A, building up the innings and developing his abundant natural ability. He has a chance to become something special, but not if he’s sitting.
If "Baby Pedro" is in the majors at age 21, then Baby Pedro should be pitching... and pitching a lot.
Just as the real Baby Pedro did for the Dodgers back in ’93.
As always, thanks for reading …