JUPITER, Fla. • Some of the same concerns that hounded Carlos Martinez throughout this past season and left the righthanded pitcher "afraid," in his words, to throw at full strength have resurfaced and halted his spring training.
Martinez has been removed from the team's throwing program and will take the next two weeks to focus on strengthening his right shoulder and participating in other baseball drills, manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday morning. The righthander had an MRI on Monday that did not reveal any additional structural damage -- Shildt said the shoulder looked the same Monday as it did in 2016, a 16-win season -- but there are areas of weakness around the shoulder that are prohibiting Martinez from recovering after he throws.
The decision to remove him from the team's pitching plan brings doubt to his readiness for opening day.
"He was very honest," Shildt said. "Very open. Came in very honest about his throwing and about how he felt."
"I just want to be smart in spring training," Martinez said, with help from the team's official translator. "I want to get strength in that shoulder. I feel a little bit of weakness and inflammation at the same time. That’s why I stopped throwing. I wanted to be a little bit smart about it and be 100 percent before throwing the ball again."
At the start of spring training, the Cardinals were preparing Martinez to be a starter, though they were open to the possibility that he would be a reliever and even used as their closer. If he is able to begin a throwing program shortly after March 5 that would leave a small window for him to build up enough arm strength to be in the rotation on opening day. He would be available sooner as a reliever.
The switch to Martinez's schedule happens on the same day that Alex Reyes has been nudged up on his schedule. Originally set to throw another bullpen session Tuesday, the rookie righthander will instead face hitters with the other starters in a live batting practice scenario.
Throughout the 2018 season, Martinez experienced difficulties and soreness in and around his shoulder. He saw significant decreases in his velocity at times and admitted that a few times he pitched hesitant -- scared that a full-strength throw would make his shoulder come apart. The Cardinals outfitted Martinez with an offseason plan to build strength and be ready for spring training so that weakness in and around the shoulder had been addressed.
Shildt said the program did not meet its intended goals, and that has forced the team to rewrite Martinez's spring training.
“Regardless of the amount of work he did, he wasn’t quite to where we would have liked to be, nor he would have liked it to be," Shildt said. "So his strength and his ability to move forward – looking at the longer view of our season – we’re going to back him off for two weeks. He’ll be no-throw, and he’ll be in strength mode. We have to make sure some of the little muscles continued to be strengthen to allow the workload and the capacity so that we don’t have an interruption like we did last year. So we’re getting ahead of it.”
Martinez, 27, went 8-6 with a 3.11 ERA this past season with 33 appearances and 18 starts. Several trips to the disabled list limited him to 118 2/3 innings. That season was a stark contrast from a breakthrough year that saw him reach 200 innings for the first time in his career, appear in a second All-Star Game, and go 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA in 2017.
The Cardinals have a handful of alternatives to fill Martinez's reserved spot in the rotation. John Gant has been a starter for the Cardinals and is out of options this spring, limiting the team's ability to send him to Class AAA. Austin Gomber was unbeaten as a starter this past August, and he would add a lefthander to the group. Dakota Hudson has been developed as a starter this spring with an eye on being in the big-league bullpen unless needed as a starter. And Reyes' role remains up for conversation based on his health and strength during spring training.
Martinez's strengthening program has begun Tuesday based on the results of the MRI taken Monday.
"Is it a little precautionary? Yes," Shildt said. "Is it necessary? Yes, as well."