Time to appreciate Padres versatile hurler Nick Martinez

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres signed Nick Martinez this past offseason to a four-year, $25.5 million contract out of Japan (the next three seasons are player options). It’s hard to think either party expected the types of contributions Martinez would be making in the 2022 season when that contract was inked.

Martinez was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft. He then toiled in their minor league system for three seasons before breaking through in 2014 to mixed results, most of them as a starter. Over parts of four seasons in Texas, the Florida native owned a 4.47 ERA and slightly-below-average 95 ERA+.

After limited interest in free agency following the 2017 season, Martinez tried his hand at pitching overseas. He signed with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) for the 2018 season. In 2021, with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, he posted a 1.62 ERA in 149 2/3 innings. Clearly, he had figured something out in Japan.

His secondary pitches became those of higher quality than before. This season, batters are hitting a measly .146 against his excellent changeup and just .200 against his sinker.

The Padres made the shrewd move to sign Martinez ahead of the 2022 season.

Now, Martinez is one of the most valuable assets to the Padres’ pitching staff. He began the season as part of the six-man rotation San Diego deployed. In 10 starts, he posted a 4.30 ERA over 52 innings. His crown jewel came on May 5, when he tossed seven innings, allowing just one run to the Marlins. He was a viable option in the back end of Bob Melvin‘s rotation.

Then, the bullpen needed shuffling and Martinez seamlessly transitioned to a reliever role. He could have played hardball. He could have dug in and said “nope, I am a starting pitcher and that’s final.”

Except, that isn’t Martinez’s mentality. He falls under the category of the invaluable players that say “whatever you need, coach.” That also includes yielding his original No. 22 to the newly acquired star Juan Soto, after some light-hearted negotiations.

At first, it was as a long reliever. Between May and July, he made five relief appearances of at least three innings.

When breaking down Martinez’s numbers by inning, he owns an ERA of 2.70 or less in the second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.

He is the only pitcher in baseball at the moment with at least 10 starts and multiple saves.

That leads us to late in games, where as of late, Martinez has been leaned upon more and more. The closer role in San Diego this year has been something just short of a disaster. Taylor Rogers struggled and was jettisoned for four-time All-Star Josh Hader, who arrived only to post a 16.20 ERA in his first five games as a Padre.

Martinez entered the ninth inning on Sunday against the Nationals with the Padres clinging to a 2-1 lead. They were seeking to salvage a series split with the lowly Nationals and the team turned to Martinez to seal the deal and perhaps spark some momentum heading into this week. He delivered, tossing a 1-2-3 ninth inning on 11 pitches for his fifth save.

In his myriad of roles, his 3.10 ERA and 121 ERA+ in 90 innings stacks up against almost any hurler on the team.

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Be it as a starter, middle reliever, or closer, Martinez has thrived in various roles this season. Every good team needs a Nick Martinez-type pitcher on the staff. It’s players with his mentality and willingness to do anything for the team to win that get teams over the hump late in the year. If the Padres are to endure the last six weeks of the season and make the playoffs, Martinez will likely get some big outs along the way.

Be it in the first, fifth, or ninth inning, it doesn’t seem to matter to Martinez.

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