ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers had no idea what they could get out of starter Nick Martinez on Sunday. Martinez had bounced between starter and reliever, and between the majors and the minors, this season.
What Martinez gave the Rangers was a chance to win after allowing just one run in five innings against Toronto. He left with a 2-1 lead and in position to earn his first major league win.
Ultimately, Martinez got a no-decision but the Rangers won, 6-2 and much of the credit belongs to the rookie righthander.
"No doubt about it," manager Ron Washington said. "We needed him to get as deep as he possibly could, he did. [Aaron] Poreda came in and gave us two innings. [Shawn] Tolleson gave us an inning and [Joakim] Soria did the rest. But it all started with Martinez just keeping us around."
Martinez had made five relief appearances since making his first two major league starts on April 5 and 22. Not even Martinez was sure how the stint in a relief role would affect his stamina, but he was able to give the Rangers 84 pitches over five innings.
"Surprisingly, I felt well," Martinez said. "I felt really good and everything was working for me. I felt strong. I don’t think my velo (velocity0 dropped at all. I felt real strong."
The only run off Martinez was a 406-foot solo shot by Juan Francisco in the third inning. The next batter, Brett Lawrie, hit a deep fly ball to straightaway center field for an out, but Martinez was not hit hard again.
Martinez also worked out of a jam in the second when have gave up a leadoff double to Adam Lind and followed that by walking Edwin Encarnacion. He also allowed two baserunners in the third and fifth innings.
Martinez said his fastball command allowed him to set up his other pitches. Washington was just as impressed with Martinez’s poise as his repertoire.
"He showed pitchability," Washington said. "Good changeup. He was hitting the bottom part of the strike zone with regularity. You could see right there when he got into the fifth inning he started raising the ball up a little bit, but he certainly gave us everything we needed."
While Washington detected some fatigue, Martinez said he didn’t feel it.
"If it were up to me I’d pitch the whole game," Martinez said. "Obviously there were some health concerns, and obviously I haven’t been stretched out yet. I felt strong the whole game, even in the fifth."
Martinez may not have enough experience as a pitcher to know when he’s tired. He was mainly a second baseman in college at Fordham and spent very little time at Double-A before being called up to the Rangers.
It wasn’t until August of last season that Martinez was moved up to Double-A Frisco. He never spent a day in the major league camp during spring training this year. An injury situation, much like the one that forced Martinez back into the rotation Sunday, led to him being added to the starting staff on the final day of spring training.
"He’s in two worlds," Washington said. "He played as a player, so he’s not fazed by much. And he has good stuff, and he knows it. And he knows how to use it.
"Each time he takes the ball it’s an experience for him. But he knew where we were today and he did a good job of just getting us through as many pitches as he could handle, and he did it. When he left the game we were in the game, and that’s what we wanted him to do today."
As for what the Rangers want him to do in the future, Martinez said he has no preference. Considering the current injury-depleted state of the rotation, Martinez will likely remain a starter for a while.
"I’m not too worried about whether they’re going to use me as a starter or a reliever, I’m just going to pitch my game," Martinez said. "I don’t count my days up here. I don’t worry about where I’m going to pitch – in the rotation, a reliever or minor leagues. I’m just worried about helping the team win."