DALLAS - It was intended to be a spot start, maybe two for the 26 year old Nick Martinez. With A.J. Griffin hitting the disabled list because of a case of gout, as long as Martinez could eat some innings, it didn't matter what he gave up. What Texas got out of its righty was more than they could have hoped for.
Coming into this start, Martinez had the stat line of exactly the type of pitcher you'd project him to be - 14-22 with a 4.44 ERA over three partial seasons, a 1.480 WHIP and a 1.42 K/BB ratio. In short, Martinez pitched like a back of the rotation arm.
There were flashes of competence, but a failure to make adjustments as a lineup turned over a third time (.794 and .761 OPS the first and second times through, .958 the third) prevented any sustained success. Still, as a 6th or 7th rotation arm, Martinez was serviceable.
Against the Royals in his 2017 debut, he was far more than that. Martinez, facing an admittedly offensively-challenged Kansas City lineup, pitched seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball on 94 pitches, sporting a 66% strike rate. He faced the lineup a third time with no issue and did so well, he earned another start against the Angels.
How did he do it?
For starters, Martinez' velocity was up. For the first three Major League seasons of his career, his four-seam fastball averaged around 90.7 MPH. His slider registered at 83.4 and his changeup hit 83.5. On Saturday, against Kansas City, he featured a 93.7 MPH four-seamer, a 90.3 MPH slider and an 86.6 MPH changeup. Those more than slight bumps in velocity would help his ability to pitch to weak contact.
He also pitched more aggressively, registering 69.2% first pitch strikes with Royals batters who saw only an average of 3.62 pitches per plate appearance. Outside of his three strikeouts, he got an even number of ground outs and fly outs. Against the Angels, Martinez was just about on par with that, going with 65.2% first pitch strikes, while the Los Angeles lineup saw 3.65 pitches per plate appearance.
But still, how?
It could be as simple as an adjustment he started last year. The adjustment? Moving to the other side of the pitching rubber. Martinez, who started out in the Majors throwing on the first base side of the mound, moved to the third base side.
By doing so, he created a different angle for his pitches, which creates deception. This angle is about the same as it was when he finished up the year in the bullpen in 2015, a September in which he gave up zero runs over four innings pitched.
He gained extra vertical movement on his pitches as well. His front side stayed closed, and because he was on that extreme side of the slab, created a little more torque with his body, resulting in more force and the above-mentioned higher velocity.
His follow-through on his pitches was something to behold, as well, as Martinez was finishing his pitches completely. His drive leg, the left one, would almost always be in a straight line from where his release point was to where it ended up in the catcher's mitt.
One factor that cannot be overlooked is the introduction of a new cut fastball. Having worked on it in Spring Training, Martinez, in his two starts, has thrown his cutter 45 times at an average velocity of 89.62 MPH. 26 of those were against the Angels, who swung and missed on 15 of them.
While one of those cutters was unfortunately misplaced against Mike Trout (and are you going to complain if you get beat by Mike Trout?), he has been using the cutter very effectively.
Finally, and probably much to the happiness of pitching coach Doug Brocail, Martinez pitched inside with his fastball and sinker about more than he ever had in his career. He kept his changeup on the outer half of the plate. In fact, according to Brooks Baseball, his changeup was the only pitch, on average, noticeably farther away from hitters than the rest.
It seems like a great recipe for success. Create deception, follow through on your pitches, pitch hard in and soft away. What else does Martinez have to do?
Consistency will be the key. Consistency and adjustment. A team that hits better on the inner half of the plate is going to eat up any pitcher that throws fastballs on the inner half of the plate. But if Martinez can keep the deception and depth on his pitches, he's more likely to keep a Major League job...somewhere. Has he figured it out?
Time will tell, but he did for two starts, and that is a sign of good things for the Rangers.
Are you buying this new and improved Nick Martinez or is it just two starts against bad teams? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.
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