Nick Martinez remembers getting the call. In June, 2018, the Texas Rangers used their 18th round draft pick to select Martinez out of Fordham University in the Bronx. Martinez had all the accolades, including a first team A-10 Conference nod and leading the Rams to a conference championship.
“Like yesterday,’ he said Tuesday evening in the Padres visitors clubhouse at Citi Field. “Cuban-American from Miami pitching college baseball in the Bronx and living your dream.”
For sure, while Martinez was up at Rose Hill, he had the fastball and curve, two of those pitches in his repertoire that impressed scouts. The radar guns at Jack Coffey Field were always seen clocking his velocity. Now with the Padres, Martinez is part of a pitching staff and a team that is projected to end the NL West division domination of the Dodgers.
A longtime NL scout with the Padres suggested the team give him a look in Japan. He lost nothing on the fastball and was adjusting in his new elements.He signed a new deal, opting out and renewing a three-year contract of $26 million in November.
This is a talented all-star rotation that works together. As they say, pitching is contagious and the Padres have the arms with Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove (Injured list), veteran Michael Wacha, and Ryan Weathers who got his first big league win Tuesday night in their 4-2 win over the Mets.
Martinez, though, is getting another opportunity after four years pitching for various teams in Japan. After the Rangers released him, it was a transition gripping a different baseball, learning about the larger outfield dimensions of a MLB ballpark, and adjusting to rules that were far from MLB standards.
“Got to play four years in Japan that offered a unique and fun experience,” he said, “There are things I can offer after playing in Japan and coming back. I learned the adjustments there and now adjusting to new rules we have this year.”
The new pitch clock rule, one that has veteran pitchers struggling with it a bit, along with the younger pitchers who adapting better to getting the ball released off the mound in a span of 20 seconds, has those advantages and disadvantages.
Basically, as Martinez claims, the game has changed and played at a rapid pace. For a veteran pitcher, that can disrupt their rhythm. He has experienced the change, so has his Mets veteran counterpart, Max Scherzer.
“You just have to keep adapting and find ways and use it to your advantage,” he said. “Pitch clock, you can get more control of the game, can also lose control and get it back. More hits, more steals, sometimes it can feel like a lot of rules will cater to the hitter, but then you get the pitch clock that works to my advantage. You just have to keep adapting and find ways and use it to your advantage.”
He reminds you of that pitcher on the comeback, though for the 32-year old lefthander, this was not a situation of reviving a career with a Major League Baseball team. Martinez looked for a return to the states, this after pitching four years with the Texas Rangers.
Last season, he gave the Padres an added arm in their push for a NL pennant that fell short in the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies. This early in the season, (0-1, 6,17 ERA, 11.2 innings) not the best start.
But Martinez is a pitcher that knows something about adjustments, having been that way since his high school days and at Fordham University.
One thing is certain, as the Padres pitching staff moves along this early, Martinez is confident he will make the adjustments with rules of a pitch clock and ban of the infield shift. He is aware who follows and precedes him in the rotation as the new pitch clock continues to cause some havoc with the veterans.
“It’s contagious when you have guys competing for the Cy Young Award and All-Stars,” he said. “You are around that talent and experience. You always try to challenge yourself and keep up with them.”
Though, Martinez is not putting blame on a pitch clock for throwing some pitches that have not located. He has adjusted to the new rules and rapid pace of the game has got his blessings, though he admits the clock should have been implemented earlier in his career.
“In my opinion it’s unfortunate for guys like myself that have played the game to have the rule implemented this point in our careers. Way I look at it, you know your baseball and die hard fans will continue watching,” he said.
But it’s those adjustments. Martinez has felt the tendency of rushing his pitch selection, the body wears down like a fighter does in the championship rounds, and there’s a concern of hitting the strike zone.
“You just have to keep adapting and find ways and use it to your advantage,” he said. “Pitch clock, you can get more control of the game, can also lose control and get it back. Chess match of baseball very similar what they do in Japan. They came up with these rules for the fans.”
Banning the infield shift has also had an impact on the pitcher, and wider bases have increased stolen base percentages. More adjustments for the veteran.
“More hits, more steals, sometimes it can feel like a lot of rules will cater to the hitter, but then you get the pitch clock that works to my advantage,” he said.
And for the Padres to ses Nick Martinez making adjustments, that will only increase their pitching depth in their quest to overtake the Dodgers.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso.