Martinez was off his game from the start. He walked the first batter, designated hitter Shannon Stewart, and had difficulty spotting his pitches throughout his three-plus innings. He even hit two batters with runners already on base. The Blue Jays, knowing Martinez was on a strict pitch count (85; he threw 84 before leaving), made a point of not chasing pitches early in the count. "We laid off some pitches we normally would have gone after," said left-fielder Jose Cruz Jr., who doubled, struck out and walked against Martinez.
Toronto players also made contact on pitches that Martinez normally blows past hitters. In the second inning second baseman Homer Bush dumped a 94-mph fastball down the rightfield line for a double; three batters later, rookie third baseman Eric Hinske broke his bat on a fastball and blooped a two-run single to right.
If Martinez was having trouble finishing off hitters, it was probably because he appeared to be limiting his pitch selection, using his curveball sparingly. "Usually he gets me out with breaking stuff," said Toronto catcher Damn Fletcher, who doubled and struck out against Martinez. "I'm wondering why he didn't throw me any today." That was the most obvious sign that Martinez was feeling uncomfortable in his own skin. Breaking pitches require a surgeon's touch. If Martinez was thinking about his mechanics or worrying about his shoulder, it would have been easy for him to lose the feel for a pitch.
For the first few weeks of the season Martinez is scheduled to get an extra day's rest between starts (his next outing was set for Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles), and judging by the way Little handled him on Monday, Boston is essentially treating these starts as glorified spring training games. Though Martinez had thrown 72 pitches and surrendered eight runs through three innings, he was sent out to start the fourth with cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado and Cruz due up. (After allowing a single and a walk, he was removed.) Little's explanation for leaving his ace in a potentially embarrassing situation: "We wanted to make sure he got his work in."
Forget carrying a team—Martinez is weeks away from assuming the average major league starter's workload. No matter, say the Red Sox. Their early schedule is soft (26 of their first 30 games are against teams that finished below .500 last year), and they're counting on Martinez for games far more important than those in April. "The goal here is to have him pitching in October," says Little. "He's still getting his feel. It's coming. We just have to be patient."
Martinez too is content to take it slowly. "We don't know how I'm going to react the next three months or what's out there for me this season," he said after Monday's game. "I can only hope to be healthy."
That wasn't the opening line Red Sox fans wanted to hear.