Nick Martinez shakes his head with a grin, thinking about it. He never thought he’d be starting in the big leagues four years ago.
It would have been a far-fetched idea for the starting second baseman at Fordham University.
“If someone would’ve asked me that, I’d say, ‘No way,’ ” Martinez said. “No way.”
But that’s where Martinez finds himself at this point in his young career, and he’s trying to make the most of it going into another start Saturday night against the Los Angeles Angels. The 23-year-old right-hander is scheduled to make his ninth start in the majors and is searching for win No. 2.
Martinez has no regrets converting into a full-time pitcher since joining the organization as an 18th-round pick in the 2011 draft. He’s had success at every level in the minor leagues and is determined to do it again in the majors.
Martinez is well aware of the old saying, “It’s tough to get to the big leagues, but harder to stay.’
“That’s absolutely true,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to come to the ballpark and try to better yourself every single day and don’t become complacent. I’m happy I’ve reached my goal of getting here, but my goal is to continue to be here. There are a lot of things I still want to accomplish.”
Becoming a reliable and dependable starter every five days is one of those. Martinez has gone through his share of growing pains, but is becoming more comfortable every time he takes the mound.
It showed in his last start when he held the Mariners to two runs over six innings Sunday. That was only the third time Martinez has reached the six-inning mark this season. Doing so consistently is a hurdle he and the team would like to see him clear.
Manager Ron Washington talked at length Friday about the importance of starting pitchers getting through six innings. It helps keep the bullpen fresh and allows Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux to use every reliever how they see fit.
In order to pitch that deep into a game, though, the starters must be more economical with their pitches. Martinez needed 108 pitches to go 5 2/3 innings on May 29 against Minnesota and 93 over 5 1/3 on June 4 against Baltimore.
Washington said his young starters can limit their pitch counts by putting batters away once they get ahead in the count.
“They haven’t been putting them away,” Washington said. “When you get ahead of hitters, you’ve got to figure out a way to put them away. I’m not saying strikeouts, but just put them away. Make something happen. It’s a growing experience.”
Martinez has been growing and developing every time he gets the ball. He knows his fastball command is the key, as it sets up every other pitch he throws.
And he isn’t afraid to ask questions, particularly to the veterans on the staff or even fellow right-hander Nick Tepesch.
Tepesch went through similar experiences last season and is another example of how difficult it can be to stay in the big leagues. Tepesch broke camp as the team’s fifth starter last season, but started at Triple A this year.
“The biggest thing I try to tell him is just the certain situations I dealt with and what made things easier on me,” Tepesch said.
Martinez soaks it all in and is feeling more and more like he belongs in the big leagues. As he said, it’s now on him to stay.
“I don’t want to say I’ve gotten used to being up here, but I do feel more comfortable on the field and around the guys,” Martinez said. “It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully it continues.”