SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after the start of the international signing period, the Cardinals announced that they signed four players from the Dominican Republic. The group includes right-handed pitchers Junior Fernandez and Sebastian Nunez, shortstop Starlin Balbuena and second baseman Ezequiel Delgado.
MLB.com previously reported the signing of Balbuena to a $300,000 bonus.
Fernandez, 17, will begin his professional career on Saturday when he joins the Cardinals' Dominican Summer League team. The other three, because of their ages, have signed contracts for 2015 and are subject to approval by Major League Baseball's Office of the Commissioner. Balbuena and Delgado are 16 years old. Nunez turned 17 in mid-May.
The Cardinals have been allotted a bonus pool of $1,866,300 for this yearlong signing period. Clubs that spend in excess of their pool will be subject to fines and future signing limitations.
Martinez brings 'contagious' energy to rotation
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's hard to miss the energy and charisma that Carlos Martinez brings to the mound, along with an upper-90s fastball and complementing curveball. It was all on show again Thursday as Martinez pitched the Cardinals to a 7-2 win, the fourth for St. Louis in as many starts for Martinez.
And apparently you have to listen to the 22-year-old, too, to get the full appreciation of his gregarious personality.
"He comes back in and he's saying all kinds of stuff, sounds like a rooster sometimes," manager Mike Matheny began to explain after the team's series win. "I haven't figured that one out yet. Whatever he's doing, guys are laughing, and they're smiling. That energy that you're talking about when you bring young guys up is contagious. And then he made a couple things happen, too.
"If you're just out here making all kinds of noise and not producing, that's a whole different animal. But he's doing a nice job making things happen on the mound and, today, at the plate."
Martinez's athleticism was on display, first as he singled home two runs in the fourth inning and then as he laid out to stop a Gregor Blanco bunt from getting past him in the fifth. The latter play briefly knocked the wind out of him, but Martinez bounced back up and later closed the inning with a bases-loaded strikeout of Buster Posey.
Afterward, with bullpen catcher Roberto Espinoza translating, Martinez described his five-inning start as "the best one I've had." His manager concurred.
"This was his best, no question," Matheny said. "I thought he had a consistent, fluid delivery. It looked like his arm was timed up with his body. It looked to me more like pitching today, rather than raring back and seeing how nasty he could be."
The Cardinals have never questioned the potential, long labeling Martinez as one of the most exciting young arms in the system. He has begged for a chance to start since arriving as a reliever last season, and he now finds himself with that chance as the Cardinals have three starting pitchers on the disabled list.
Martinez threw a season-high five innings (one walk, six strikeouts) on a season-most 88 pitches Thursday. One of his tasks now is to improve that efficiency so he can go deeper. The upside is certainly high, and with the Cardinals' decision to open the year with Martinez in the bullpen, the club sets itself up to use him as a starter as long as needed.
Thus far, that's proven to be a winning combination.
"I've never seen a lack of confidence from this kid no matter what the situation," Matheny said. "Maybe one time when he came up last year, it looked like he was a little shell shocked, and that's when [catcher] Yadi [Molina] knocked some sense into him on the mound. After that, I haven't seen a guy where I didn't look out there and not think, 'This guy has complete confidence and is going to get the job done.' That's one of his greatest strengths."
Kelly set to return to rotation after All-Star break
SAN FRANCISCO -- Joe Kelly will make two more Minor League rehab starts, manager Mike Matheny said on Thursday, which means the Cardinals do not plan on having him back in their rotation until after the All-Star break.
The need to have Kelly (left hamstring strain) pitch twice more before coming off the disabled list is related to pitch count, as the Cardinals want the right-hander built up to carry a starter's load upon his return. Kelly threw 41 pitches in his first rehab start and 49 in his most recent one on Tuesday. Matheny said Kelly is expected to throw about 70 pitches in his next outing (Sunday with Triple-A Memphis) and around 85 in his final one.
With this timetable, St. Louis will need two more starts from Marco Gonzales (or another fifth starter) leading up to the All-Star break.
Here is a rundown of progress being made by other injured Cardinals players:
Kevin Siegrist (left forearm strain): Siegrist is expected to throw a low-intensity mound session on Friday after noting improved progress with his shoulder during his last two times throwing on flat ground.
Kolten Wong (left shoulder contusion): Wong is expected to come off the DL on Sunday, his first date of eligibility. After playing two straight days in his rehab assignment with Memphis, Wong will sit on Thursday. He'll return to the field on Friday and Saturday to wrap up his rehab stint.
Jaime Garcia (left shoulder inflammation): Matheny said that Garcia is in the process of getting additional opinions from shoulder specialists to determine his next course of action.
Michael Wacha (right shoulder stress reaction): Wacha continues to rest his throwing arm.
Auction will be held to benefit Cardinals Care
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals, along with FOX Sports Midwest and the Cardinals Radio Network, will hold an in-game auction while the team hosts the Pirates next Tuesday. Six Cardinals experiences are up for bidding, and all money raised will go to Cardinals Care, the organization's charitable arm dedicated to assisting children in the community.
Among the items to bid on include a chance to play catch with Michael Wacha, talk strategy with manager Mike Matheny, participate in the organization's fantasy camp and spend time with various members of the FOX Sports Midwest and Cardinals Radio Network team.
Bidding will open at first pitch on Tuesday and continue through the seventh innings. Bids can be placed by calling 314-345-9418. A full description of all the auction experiences can be found at cardinals.com/auction14.
St. Louis is also offering Wacha Fan Packs during the auction, each of which include a Wacha bobblehead, replica 2013 National League Champions ring and two tickets for a 2014 home game. These packs cost $99.99 and can be purchased from first pitch until midnight at cardinals.com/auction14.
• Outfielder Stephen Piscotty will represent the Cardinals in the Triple-A All-Star Game, as he was named to the Pacific League's 30-man roster on Thursday. Piscotty, selected as a reserve outfielder, is hitting .306 with five homers, 24 doubles and 45 RBIs in 81 games for Memphis. The All-Star Game will take place in Durham, N.C., on July 16, and will be televised by MLB Network.
• Though St. Louis was facing a left-handed starter on Thursday, Matheny pulled Allen Craig from the lineup to instead start Oscar Taveras in right field. Craig entered the day 6-for-34 on the road trip and hitless in his last seven at-bats.
• The Cardinals announced the addition of another theme night, this one the 2014 Outdoors Night presented by Cabela's on Sept. 16. Fans who purchase a theme ticket to the game will receive a camouflage Cardinals cap, Cabela's koozie and Drury Outdoors decal. To purchase tickets and/or VIP packages, visit cardinals.com/theme.
• Matheny visited with Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, in the Cardinals' dugout for several minutes after Thursday's 7-2 win. Harbaugh, like Matheny, was born in Ohio and went on to play college sports for the University of Michigan.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.