Carlos Martinez is a man on a mission for the Cardinals

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Carlos MartinezOne of the colorful sidebars in this year’s World Series was Carlos Martinez, a flamboyant young relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who nobody ever heard of until a few weeks ago. This kid’s triple digit fastball and sweeping slider introduced him to Fox viewers, representing one of the positive things that St. Louis fans can chew on over the winter.

On the surface, Martinez doesn’t seem to portray the squeaky clean image the Cardinals have been known to portray. When originally signed as an international free agent in 2009, ironically by the Boston Red Sox, the Dominican-born Martinez got tangled up in that familiar duel identity web. Unlike most Cardinal players who are cool and collected, Carlos is an emotional rookie who often has problems staying within himself. But if it weren’t for the flame-throwing duo of Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, this edition of the Fall Classic would already be over.

To his defense, Carlos Martinez was a victim of circumstances as a child. When his mother passed away and there was no father around, as is the case in many Hispanic countries, Carlos was raised by an uncle whose last name is Matias. When the Red Sox signed Martinez as a 17 year old infielder for $140,000, Major League Baseball did a routine document check and found a discrepancy. Was this teenager named Martinez or Matias? Hence, the contract was voided and Martinez was suspended for a year.

Eventually, the issue was resolved and the real Carlos Martinez went back in the selection pool in 2010, when he signed a new deal, this time with the Cardinals, as a pitcher for $1.5 million. The Redbirds found out there was nothing false about the age of Martinez, then 18, and the raw but talented right hander would spend the better part of four years in the minors as a starter. Working in the same role with the Cardinals would be a dream come true for Martinez. But when former closer Jason Motte went on the shelf and both Edward Mujica and Fernando Salas began to struggle, Martinez grabbed the job as the setup guy for Rosenthal and has been content in the bullpen for now.

“Ever since he came up, Carlos has asked me what he needs to improve on to become a starter,” laughs Cardinal manager Mike Matheny. “But he knows he’s important to us in the pen. We have some interesting conversations and I’m learning to speak Spanish.”

When Martinez exits the bullpen, he has the presence of a wild stallion breaking out of his stall. Fittingly, the word “Tsunami” is tatooed on his golden arm. Martinez can deliver a four-seam fastball in triple digits, a tailing two-seam pitch and a filthy slider. He has what I call a loose arm, because he throws the ball like he’s cracking a whip. The youngster battled nerves and emotions in a mop up role during game one of this tournament, but since has thrown three scoreless innings and was brilliant in game three. The success of Martinez on the big stage has media-types calling calling the 22 year old, “Baby Pedro,” in reference to another Dominican pitcher who shares the same last name. And while there are similarities in the hair and pitching styles, such a comparison is a bit unfair. Carlos knows his career is just beginning to blossom, and he needs to work on refining his pitches and maintaining his composure.

“This kid isn’t afraid,” notes future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina. “Sometimes, I just have to go out there and calm Carlos down. I tell him to just keep it simple.”

The Cardinals have some decisions to make in the months ahead. Do they keep an aging, high-priced Chris Carpenter, who will be a free agent? I think not. The Redbirds are loaded with young arms. Motte will be back to anchor the pen. Southpaw ace Jaime Garcia will be back to claim his spot in the starting rotation. That leaves Michael Wacha and Martinez, who were teammates at triple A Memphis this past seasons, to compete in the mix of returning guys who will open games.

Mission accomplished? No. But Carlos Martinez is right where he wants to be.

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