The progress of some of the Texas Rangers’ young pitchers is not always clearly defined by the obvious markers such as wins or earned-run averages.
In the case of Nick Martinez, who will start Sunday’s series finale in Houston, statistics are not even discussed.
For Martinez, 24, who is making his 15th start, improvement is also about learning from past situations.
A prime example was in his last outing against the Chicago White Sox. With a runner on third and one out in the third inning, Martinez (1-8) walked two hitters and had to face Jose Abreu with the bases loaded. Abreu singled in two runs.
“In that situation in the game it might be better to get an out,” Martinez said. “It’s better to pitch with two outs and [allowing] one run than to get the bases loaded and have to pitch under stress and against their best hitter.”
It’s something that Rangers manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddox pointed out at the time, and something that Martinez, while knowing beforehand, didn’t yet fully appreciate.
“At this level, they don’t really chase and they really look for a pitch early in the count, especially with runners on and in scoring position,” he said. “In the minors, with a runner on third and less than one out, I can really try to nibble and get a hitter to chase a bad pitch and I can get out of it.”
Miles Mikolas (1-4) is learning the same strategy. Friday against the Astros, he struggled with his command but was able to work out of it and left with a 2-1 lead after five innings.
“I put myself in those situations by walking guys and being a little too fine on the edges,” Mikolas said. “But when push came to shove I really was able to stay out of the big hit and stay out of the big inning and keep our team in the game as long as I could.”
He was forced to throw too many pitches (105), however, and had to exit early.
“Getting ahead 0-2 and trying a little too hard to strike them out,” he said. “Guys get in a count like that and are maybe a little bit more defensive. If I stay in the zone, I probably get some quicker outs, maybe some ground balls and weak contact. It’s definitely something to learn from.”
For Washington, it’s about seeing each of them progress and learn from start to start.
“We don’t go to the won-loss records, that’s negative,” he said. “We just talk to [Martinez] about what he has to do to continue to get better and get consistent. Even talking about it is not the answer because he has to go out there and apply it. It’s just about getting better right now. He’s young.”
Part of the maturation process for Martinez, Mikolas and Nick Tepesch, Washington said, is reacting appropriately when scenarios present themselves.
“These guys are competing at a high level against hitters they’ve never envisioned ever seeing before,” he said. “They make a pitch they think is a good pitch and it ends up down the line for a double. Good pitchers get hit up here, too. Good pitchers in the minor leagues don’t get hit. A lot of bad ones don’t get hit. That’s why you see a lot of pitchers in the big leagues because they get away with the bad pitches down there. It’s a process.”
Martinez has the right mental approach, Washington said.
“He’s studious. He’s conscientious,” he said. “He wants to be better. It just takes time. It might take another year. Unless you’re something real, real special it takes time. But he’ll figure it out.”