St. Louis Cardinals: Is this version of Carlos Martinez here to stay?

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez is on the verge of a breakout. Is this version of the right-hander here to stay?

Entering the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals expected a better version of Carlos Martinez. They couldn’t have expected anything like this.

What Martinez has done this season is put himself in the conversation as the best Cardinals pitcher not named Jack Flaherty. His fastball looks lively and his secondary pitches look crisp. He has allowed only three runs (two earned) and six hits  in his last 21.2 innings pitched, with his most recent outing being an eight inning gem in a 3-0 win Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates .

After his April 27 start, Martinez told reporters: “The tsunami is coming.” The tsunami, quite frankly, has arrived.

Martinez, 29, emerging as a legitimate high-end starting pitcher again completely changes the outlook of the Cardinals rotation and their season. Despite their optimism, Martinez entered the season as arguably the team’s biggest question mark, and was surprisingly handed a starting job early in spring training without much game action.

So far, Martinez has made the Cardinals look really smart for their conviction. The challenge for him is staying consistent for the rest of the season. It is highly unlikely he keeps up this pace for the remaining 130 or so games — that would put him in the conversation with Jacob deGrom — but if he finishes the season with an ERA in the low-to-mid 3s, it could completely change how the Cardinals approach the trade deadline and pitch in October.

Right now, Martinez has a 3.72 ERA. That includes a six run clunker against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 16. In the other five outings, he has pitched 31.1 innings and allowed only nine runs, which would put him at an ERA of 2.60.

There is a lot of season left, of course, but it sure looks like the Cardinals had every right to be optimistic about Martinez.