Nick Martinez the Texas Rangers right-handed pitcher has grown up, In baseball standards that means throwing the fastball with location and attacking hitters early in ther count. An infielder at Fordham University in the Bronx, the Miami Florida resident, with a Cuban background had that potential to throw off the mound when he got five relief appearance opportunities for the Atlantic-10 Conference Rams in 2011.
Then something happened. He converted to a pitcher after being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 18th round of the amateur draft in 2011 after being asked to give it a try.
And now in his second year as a big league starter, Martinez is rapidly developing a reputation as a starter to be reckoned with.
That continued Saturday afternoon in the Bronx. Martinez took control early and handled a struggling New York Yankees lineup through 7.0 innings, good enough to stay perfect at 4-0. It helped that his Rangers team dominated New York at the plate, banging out 15-hits en route to an easy 15-4 win. He gave up five hits throwing a career high 108 pitches, and except for two home run balls, has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in 15 consecutive starts.
Yes, Martinez has grown up. The Texas Rangers feel they have a future ace and in baseball, as it happens more that once, the unexpected seems to always happen. Except Martinez is maturing each and every time he takes the mound, and with the Rangers offense starting to get on track, Martinez is also gaining more confidence.
“It’s nice, I don’t know what to say,” said Martinez about the early run support and the big lead. He said that with a smile that could have extended from the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium to the Fordham Rose Hill campus, which is three miles from the Stadium.
“I will take it every time. Great when guys are swinging the bat that way.I could hear my buddies out there cheering for me. It’s almost like a homecoming for me.” Though this was his second time on the mound at Yankee Stadium for the Rangers, so there was more of a familiarity with the dimensions of the ballpark and some in the Yankees lineup.
Last August he got a start in the Bronx and pitched five innings, striking out five, and did not figure in the decision. Then he left a bunch of tickets for friends and he had another enthusiastic core of fans from Fordham cheering him on every pitch.
Sunday morning, prior to leaving to the ballpark for the series finale, Martinez was planning to visit the baseball team at Rose Hill and give them some support.
“Coming back to the Bronx, hearing my buddies cheering….I spent three or four important years of my life here,” said Martinez. “It’s special for me to pitch here. Always will have a special place in my heart.”
With the exception of two walks in the first inning, to Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees did not get their first of five hits off Martinez until the fourth inning when Rodriguez got on base with an infield single, and two more hits came off home runs.
Carlos Beltran extended his hitting streak to a season high 13-games with a sixth inning solo shot to right on a 0-1 fastball. And Didi Gregorius homered in consecutive games for the second time in his career in the seventh inning, with one-out to right on another fastball.
“Growing up right in front of our eyes,” is how Rangers’ manager manager Jeff Banister described the composure and maturity of Martinez, wh0 at 24-years of age can only get better.
Banister added, “Nick’s been a guy that’s been in complete control. His composure on the mound has been spectacular really. He has not shown any anxiety anywhere, no nervousness.” And that showed after that first inning when Martinez got into a groove and he certainly did not let the home balls get to him.
If it were not for the career high pitch count, Martinez may have went another inning or two. He added about that first inning, “I wasn’t locked in and after that went in on the attack.”
On the home run to Beltran, Martinez said, “He’s a great hitter. He hasn’t been in this game by a mistake. Thought I could beat him inside, he beat me.” But Martinez did get a win over the Yankees for the first time in three career starts and despite the 4-0 record, he is the first to admit there is more to learn.
“I don’t look at it too much,” he said about the record. “ Just go out and help my team win. I just try to come to the ballpark everyday with the mentality to continue to learn. Knowing that, going to the ballpark to learn and better myself, it helps. I’m capable, not surprised. If I keep working hard I will be alright.”
Those are the words of a confident pitcher and a good hitter in the Rangers’ lineup, Elvis Andrus has also noticed how Martinez has matured and grown in his last few starts.
“He knows how to throw that fastball and attack early,” Andrus said. “It was nice to give him early run support.” Andrus went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs as the Rangers had a season high in runs for a game and their largest win of the season.
They feel confident at the plate. More so, there is that confidence that Martinez on the mound gives them a better chance for a win. Perhaps those days on the Fordham campus, and those few times on the mound were meant to be for Martinez, who has also been getting some good pointers from Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, brother of Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux.
Says Banister, “He can read hitters well.” And as long as Martinez continues to do that, the Rangers will be very content that they stumbled upon an unexpected pitcher who has grown to be a good one.