Photo: David McGregor
Reliever Cristhian Martinez pitches for the Gwinnett Braves against the Rochester Red Wings on July 29.
LAWRENCEVILLE — After his first two appearances with the Gwinnett Braves, it looked like claiming Cristhian Martinez off waivers from the Florida Marlins might not work out.
He had pitched three innings, allowed three earned runs (four total) off four hits, walked one and struck out two. His ERA was 9.00 and he had already picked up a loss. Over his next 10 starts, things improved only slightly. He pitched four innings once and had just five scoreless appearances.
Looking back, it shouldn’t be a surprise one of the no-run outings was the four-inning long relief effort. It was also the only outing he did not allow a hit.
But in spite of his troubles, his 14 runs off 25 hits and the 5.04 ERA, Martinez was called up to the Atlanta Braves on May 22.
His first three appearances in the big leagues? Three innings, no hits, no runs.
He totaled seven appearances and 102⁄3 innings with Atlanta. He allowed six runs off six hits, but those came in two outings. In his other five he was perfect in six innings.
But his big-league time ended when Jair Jurrjens came off the disabled list and Martinez was sent to Class AAA Gwinnett. He returned a different pitcher. And last Thursday his improvement was rewarded with his second call-up to Atlanta this season.
The first time, Martinez left with a plus-five ERA. By the time he left it had dropped to 3.28. In nine minor-league appearances, he allowed four runs and those came in two games. He threw perfect outings over the other 101⁄3 innings.
In his first appearance in his second big-league stint with the Braves, Martinez allowed one hit and no runs over one inning in Atlanta’s 10-4 loss Monday to Houston.
“I got comfortable and trust my stuff and trust my mind,” Martinez said. “When I started the season here, it was a different team. I came from the Marlins and I had to meet like a new family. Once you get comfortable you do a better job.”
A native from the Dominican Republic, Martinez originally signed with the Tigers in 2005 and was a starter through his minor-league career.
It wasn’t until he made his major-league debut last season with the Marlins that he converted to a reliever. And reliever has been his primary role for the Braves, both in Gwinnett and Atlanta.
For two appearances in late July, Martinez was back to starting. He went 1-0 in those two starts. His best outing was a one-hitter at Scranton when he threw 78 pitches over 62⁄3 innings.
“I think that the main thing is he is in a good comfort zone,” said Gwinnett Braves pitching coach Derek Botelho. “Without him saying anything to anybody, deep inside he really likes to start.”
That showed in his four-inning stint in May. Martinez likes logging innings.
He is proud that over his minor league seasons he has thrown more than 100 innings five different seasons, including 1532⁄3 in 2008.
But because of his potential as a big-league reliever, Martinez returned to the G-Braves’ bullpen for his final two outings before his call up. His starting duties were mostly spot appearances on a rotating roster.
Being able to throw 80 pitches in an appearance or throw just an inning opens up possibilities for Martinez this season that showed when Atlanta recalled him to its bullpen.
“Even, right now, as we speak, his role as a starter and a reliever it adds versatility to him,” Botelho said, prior to the most-recent promotion. “If he is here with us he has been stretched out, if he goes back to Atlanta he could be in a long role, he could be a guy that could go three, four, five innings if they needed. But if they need him for two innings he could also do that.”
But Martinez, now that he’s comfortable, just wants to pitch.
“I like both. Both are fine,” Martinez said. “They tell me what I’ve got to do and I just do it. I don’t worry about starting, I don’t worry about relieving.”