Photo by David J. Phillip
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It should be noted Cristhian Martinez did not start a game until July 4.
In fact, the most innings he had thrown until that holiday game in Class AAA was a four-inning outing May 13 out of the Atlanta Braves bullpen. He threw 52 pitches in that outing.
His four rough outings out of the Atlanta bullpen in June landed him with the G-Braves for the first time this season July 2 in favor of Cory Gearrin. He joined a team lacking a consistent fifth starter and entered the rotation.
He never once looked like a reliever.
Martinez won his first start, pitching five innings on the Fourth of July. He followed that up with a hard-luck loss in his next outing, giving up just two runs over six innings in a shutout loss.
Martinez' third start came Thursday and he continued the streak.
He matched his season-high six outing, allowing one earned run, walking one and striking out three. He left with a 3-2 lead and the bullpen made it stand as the G-Braves regained first place in the International League South Division by a half game over the Durham Bulls.
"He pitched an efficient game, I know that," Brundage said. "He certainly has done his job and done what (the Atlanta Braves people) wanted him to do. It's pretty similar roles for what he was doing."
His smooth transition shouldn't be a surprised.
He made two starts with the G-Braves last year, jumping his innings numbers up from no more than four to 62/3. He went 1-0 in the consecutive games with a 3.21 ERA. He eventually earned a spot last year in Atlanta's bullpen and stayed in the bigs into this season. He pitched well early in the season, turning in five scoreless outings in his first six appearances. But over June, his ERA climbed from under 3.00 to 3.67. His demotion to the minors didn't impact his performance.
"When I started in the minor leagues I was a starting pitcher," said Martinez who started for his first seven professional seasons before making the Florida Marlins bullpen in 2009. "I just keep pounding the strike zone. That's what I know as a starting pitcher, attack the zone."
A double and a rare Diory Hernandez error at shortstop led to an unearned run in the first inning off Martinez, but he struck out the final batter of the inning.
Gwinnett added a run in each of the first three innings off Norfolk's Rick Vandenhurk. Mauro Gomez, Ed Lucas and Chris Carter all knocked in runs. Lucas' RBI double in the second was the only extra-base hit for the G-Braves in the game, scoring Ruben Gotay from first base.
"We made the most of our three runs," Brundage said. "It was not our best night offensively.
"Certainly the 'pen, Martinez and the pitchers, they kept us in it, they did what they've done all season."
Martinez turned the game over to the Gwinnett bullpen which held the one-run lead. Juan Abreu walked two, but struck out three in the seventh and Jaye Chapman K'd two in a perfect eighth. Abrue now has turned in 13 straight scoreless inning and Chapman, since taking a loss on June 19, has dropped his 57 points. Jairo Asencio picked up his 16th save, second best in the IL.
"They all pitched well," Brundage said, nothing a few struggles for Abreu and Asencio. "Any time you take some time off ... you can tell. The end results were good."
Matt Young left the game in the second third inning after a collision at home plate ended the first inning. Young tried to score on Chris Carter's pop out to center field but Matt Angle's throw beat Young by a few steps and he took out catcher and Marist graduate John Hester at home to no avail. Young played one more inning in center field before leaving the game.
"He was a little banged up," Brundage said. "He banged knees with him. The problem was the other guy was wearing shin pads."