Nick Martinez: Ranger Under the Radar

When the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox square off tonight, most of the starting pitcher attention will be focused on Boston’s Eduardo Rodriquez. Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller at last year’s trade deadline, the promising 22-year-old left-hander will be making his big-league debut.

Nick Martinez will be on the mound for Texas. The fact that he’ll be playing second fiddle to a rookie is par for the course. The 24-year-old right-hander has received scant fanfare this season, despite being 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA. The fact that he’s not playing second base is part of his story.

Martinez played both middle infield positions at Fordham University, and he grew up dreaming of reaching the big leagues an everyday player. He only pitched “three mop up innings” in high school and another 26 in college. He was a reluctant hurler, at least initially.

“When I was in high school, my dad suggested I take some pitching lessons, just to have that in my back pocket,” Martinez said. “I did it just to please him. I didn’t really want to do them, at least not at first, but it obviously paid off for me.”

The Rangers selected Martinez in the 17th round of the 2011 draft, and less than four years later, he’s the epitome of quiet effectiveness. His fastball, which averages a tick under 90 mph, isn’t sexy. His 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings is downright plain. His ERA, which is second-best in the American League behind Sonny Gray, is girl-next-door gorgeous.

As you’d expect from his numbers, Martinez strives to induce early contact. Or, as he likes to put it, “early, weak contact.” His version of attack mode is to “work inside and out, sink it, cut it, throw a curveball when they’re thinking fastball.”

The righty’s repertoire includes a slider and a four-seam circle changeup, the latter of which is his best secondary pitch. It became a primary weapon for him in 2013, thanks to High-A pitching coach Steve Mintz.

“He challenged all the starters to go through the first nine hitters with just fastballs and changeups,” Martinez said. “That forced us to throw 10, 15, sometimes 20 changeups a game. That’s when I realized it could be a separator for me.”

Transitioning from a part-time to a full-time pitcher was relatively seamless for the former Fordham Ram. His mechanical fine-tuning focused mainly on “separating my hands above the rubber, familiarizing myself with the weight distribution and using the rubber to my advantage.” Adjusting the way he holds the horsehide also helped get him on the right track.

“That was something I learned more once I got into pro ball,” Martinez said. “I tried different grips to find out what is comfortable for me. I still ask guys how they grip certain pitches, and I’ll tinker with them to see what I like and what I don’t like. I talk to Colby Lewis a lot. I talk to Yovanni [Gallardo]. Even Derek Holland, which gives me a lefty perspective.”

Some of his most vital communication is with his catchers. What they see from behind the plate can differ from what he sees from 60 feet, six inches, and because Martinez needs to mix and match to be successful, there’s often a need to change on the fly. That makes being on the same page essential.

“We talk about how the hitters are reacting to to my pitches and adjust our game plan accordingly,” Martinez said. “You don’t stay tight with your game plan as often as you might think. There are so many variables, and so many different things that can happen. Your best games are usually when Plan A is working, but how often do you have your best game, or even your best stuff? You have to learn to battle with what you have.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Immanuel Kamment
7 years ago

Did you really just start a post at Fangraphs lamenting the attention that a pitcher’s ERA and Wins are getting?!

7 years ago

In the context of the sentence he said he isn’t receiving any fanfar though. He is under the radar because fans still don’t care about him even with his suberb fanfairish stats!