In Carlos Martinez's first eight starts of the year, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander pitched at a Cy Young Award level. While his record was only 3-2, his ERA was a miniscule 1.62 and he gave up only five earned runs in a seven-start stretch.
But a strained right lat cost him four weeks, and Martinez hasn't been the same pitcher since being activated from the 10-day disabled list on June 5. He has walked a whopping 12 batters in 7 2/3 innings, including seven on Sunday in 3 2/3 innings during a 6-3 loss at Cincinnati.
Martinez will need to be sharper Saturday night when St. Louis tries to square its three-game weekend series with the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium, where it absorbed a frightful 13-5 pounding Friday night.
Chicago (39-27) produced seven extra-base hits, including homers by Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. Bryant's two-run blast over the Cubs' bullpen in the third snapped an 0-for-17 skid, and Schwarber's 465-foot moonshot to center in the fifth was one of the longest homers in stadium history.
Bryant's homer also snapped a 24-game streak without a long ball. It came after manager Joe Maddon gave him two days off in Milwaukee, followed by a schedule-enforced off-day on Thursday.
"Rest in this game cures everything," Maddon said.
Does that work for Martinez as well? Martinez (3-3, 2.50 ERA) admitted he didn't completely turn it loose in his return outing against Miami on June 5.
He aired it out to 99 mph in his last appearance but simply couldn't control his breaking pitches and was reduced to a one-pitch pitcher by the time the Reds touched him for four runs in the fourth inning.
While upset with umpire Gerry Davis' strike zone, Martinez knew command was a bigger issue than what was or wasn't being called.
"I think some of my breaking balls were not good," he said. "I couldn't find the strike zone with my breaking ball and cutter, too. That's why you saw a lot of four-seamers. They hit a lot of foul balls. I missed a lot."
Martinez has been up and down in his career against Chicago, going 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA in 24 outings, 14 of them starts. It will be his first start of the year against the Cubs.
Chicago counters with right-hander Kyle Hendricks (4-6, 3.48), who is coming off a 7-1 loss Sunday to Pittsburgh that had little to do with his performance. Hendricks permitted just three hits and a run in five innings, but Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison led off the game with a homer. The Pirates feasted on the Cubs' bullpen for five runs in the sixth.
Hendricks has pitched fairly well in his career against the Cardinals (36-31) with little to show for it, going 2-2 in 10 starts with a 3.32 ERA. This will be his first appearance in 2018 against St. Louis.
Chicago's Friday outburst against Michael Wacha, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped, led to the Cardinals running up the white flag early. They removed catcher Yadier Molina after five innings and even let reliever John Brebbia take an at-bat in the ninth after using all of their position players.
"We were trying to conserve arms and get a couple of guys off their feet," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.