CINCINNATI — Perhaps hidden by the sparks crackling off a rivalry rekindled Saturday is the worrisome smoke the Cardinals see in their pitching lines.
Two games into the season and two starters have yet to complete the fifth inning, yet to qualify for a win if there was one for them, yet to allow the bullpen to find its rhythm and role without having to absorb leftover innings. Adam Wainwright had one of the shortest starts of his career due to a curious third inning that included a series of soft-hit singles, and Jack Flaherty could not complete the fifth inning on opening day when a couple of walks invited trouble at Great American Small Park.
To stem the trend the Cardinals turn to a pitcher who wasn't a sure thing entering spring until he was due to injuries elsewhere.
Carlos Martinez, who started February in the competition for the fifth starter spot, will make his season debut as the Cardinals' third start and try to be the first to get a 15th out.
The bullpen has pitched 10 innings in the two games, nine outs more than the starters have been able to collect. That forced rookie Jake Woodford, the long reliever, into memorable duty Saturday. He had to throw more than two innings, and is not available Sunday. Tyler Webb has appeared in both of the first two games. Every member of the bullpen has already appeared, and few have done so in their planned role.
If Martinez can not be efficient or effective the Cardinals current roster setup will leave them scrambling for innings.
Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera are two relievers who could provide them.
Martinez finished spring training strong with one of his finer outings as a starter. The injuries to Kwang Hyun Kim (back) and Miles Mikolas (shoulder) moved Martinez out of the competition and into the rotation — a move the Cardinals were likely to make anyway, and were looking to make as the righthander enters the final year of his contract.
Martinez cleaved his spring ERA in half with his final outing in Florida.
The righthander allowed four hits and struck out five as he shut out the Mets' varsity lineup for six innings.
That brought his spring performance down to a 5.66 ERA and gave him more strikeouts (14) than walks (11) over 20 2/3 innings. What he tried to get a grip on all spring was the action on his sinker, and his faith in it — and its potential velocity.
It can be the kind of pitch that gets expedient outs.
The bullpen could use the relief.
Here are the lineups for the series finale:
1. Tommy Edman, 2B
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B
4. Paul DeJong, SS
5. Tyler O'Neill, LF
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Dylan Carlson, CF
8. Justin Williams, RF
9. Carlos Martinez, P
1. Tyler Naquin, LF
2. Nick Castellanos, RF
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez, SS
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B
6. Nick Senzel, CF
7. Jonathan India, 2B
8. Tyler Stephenson, C
9. Jeff Hoffman, P
After the Sunday afternoon game against the Reds the Cardinals jet back to Florida for the second leg of their season-opening road trip. They'll face the Marlins for three games in Miami before returning to Busch for the home opener Thursday and playing in front of a crowd for the first time since 2019.