May 5, 2014

Martinez pitching for extended stay in long role

The rookie has impressed after two relief outings and could stick around awhile with the Rangers.

Nick Martinez wasn’t available out of the Texas Rangers’ bullpen Monday night, and the right-hander won’t be ready to pitch again until Wednesday at the earliest.

But that’s life as a long man, a role in which Martinez has excelled in his first two chances after hanging onto a roster spot following an April 22 spot start at Oakland.

He might be hanging onto that spot for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes, as manager Ron Washington explained, the needs of the name on the front of the jersey outweigh those of the name on the back. The Rangers, who have seen relievers placed on the well-documented early-season injury report, need Martinez even though he probably needs to be continuing to grow as a starter in the minors.

The Rangers, though, have instances in recent history of giving a minor-league starter opportunities out of the bullpen as an introduction to life in the big leagues, most notably Derek Holland.

Times have changed, and Martinez isn’t considered as good of a prospect as Holland was. Injured pitchers are going to get healthy at some point.

But Martinez could be next if he continues to perform as he has twice in the past week.

“The only thing I can say about that: If that kid keeps coming out that bullpen doing what he did yesterday and [April 28 vs. Oakland], then that answers itself,” Washington said.

“As bad as we want this kid to get into a rotation and throw every fifth day, maybe he can do this and we still can get him into a starting rotation one day. If he can keep doing it, I think we’ll forget about sending him back.”

The Rangers could have used Martinez in the opener of a two-game interleague series at Coors Field after left-hander Martin Perez lasted only five innings.

Martinez has worked twice as a long man, posting 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Five of those came in his relief debut last week against Oakland, when Yu Darvish lasted only 3 1/3 innings against his nemesis.

He saved the bullpen again Sunday, again in relief of Darvish.

But even if Martinez continues to thrive in the long role, it might not be enough to keep him around.

Joe Saunders, who will make a rehab start Tuesday for Double A Frisco, could be a candidate for long relief. Tanner Scheppers, though throwing to only 105 feet, is likely headed back to the bullpen once healthy.

Neftali Feliz will be welcomed back to the bullpen once he is pitching well enough to leave Triple A Round Rock. When Derek Holland is ready to return to the rotation, fellow left-hander Robbie Ross will likely find a home in the bullpen.

Several current members of the bullpen will have to be moved back to the minors. Martinez is an easy choice because he has options remaining and his future is as a starter.

But as pitchers get healthy, the starting depth chart that Martinez topped will get deeper. Good opening months at Triple A by Nick Tepesch and Scott Baker could allow the Rangers to keep Martinez on their roster.

But he’s more than content just being in the major leagues. He isn’t worrying about what’s ahead, though following the Holland Plan sounds fine to him.

“I think that would be great, just sort of ease your way into it,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me. I have started up here before, and I’ve been in the bullpen. I know I can do both. But whatever helps the team win, I’ll be happy to do.”

What he has done in two spot starts and two relief appearance has been good enough to make the Rangers consider keeping him around. More quality work could make for a longer stay as their long man.

But it’s a little more complicated than that.

“Sometimes, it’s what’s best for the Texas Rangers and not the individual,” Washington said. “When it’s time to make that kind of decision, we’ve got to decide what’s best for him and us.”

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