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Fordham’s Nick Martinez is Making a Name For Himself in Texas, as a pitcher.

Martinez always imagined playing in the big leagues, just never as a pitcher.

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Nick Martinez throws the ball during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field earlier this season. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Nick Martinez throws the ball during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field earlier this season. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Martinez, the Texas Rangers’ starter this past Saturday afternoon against the New York Yankees, grew up in Hialeah, Fla and played shortstop in Little League alongside Darrius Dawson, the son of Hall of Famer Andre Dawson. At Belen Jesuit Prep, he was no superstar and didn’t even earn All-Country honorable mention. But he always imagined playing in the big leagues, just never as a pitcher.

“I would of thought to my last breathe that I would of been a major league infielder,” said the 24-year old Martinez, whose father did sway him into taking pitching lessons from neighbor and former Rangers pitcher Juan Alvarez in high school. “But life’s a journey and you never know where it’s going to take you.”

Martinez’s baseball journey began at Fordham University in the Bronx, a cold weather school that had not produced a notable professional baseball player since Pete Harnisch began a fourteen-year career in 1988 with the Baltimore Orioles despite having the most Division I wins for a baseball program.

“I wanted to continue my catholic education and being recruited by different catholic schools up and down the East Coast made it easier for me,” said Martinez, who made more appearances in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium than he did pitching for the Rams. “It was a good experience for me and it gave me a little insight into how I can play in the cold weather. You know the World Series takes place in some cold places, so if I could handle it at that age I think I could handle it at this age.”

Nick Martinez was primarily an infielder at Fordham University. (Photo from

Nick Martinez was primarily an infielder at Fordham University. (Photo from

In his three Ram seasons, Martinez made his mark as a second baseman, starting 146 of a possible 165 games at second. During his time at the Jesuit University, he was a career .295 hitter with 66 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and 109 runs scored. He also made 15 appearances on the mound, all in relief, during his freshman and junior years. In 26.1 scattered innings, he posted an unsightly 5.47 ERA and recorded just 22 strikeouts. Despite playing at Jack Coffey Field just four miles north of Yankee Stadium, it was the Texas Rangers who took notice of his athleticism and smooth mechanics on the hill.

“The area scout at the time for the North-East, Jay Heafner, was actually back home in the Carolinas and he caught one of our games during spring break and saw me pitch and then followed me back up here,” said Martinez, who was not mentioned at all by Baseball America among the 25 draft-eligibles from New York (and 1,361 players overall) in its 2011 pre-draft features. “That’s how they saw me.”

The Rangers snagged Martinez in 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft with the 564th pick and immediately transformed him into a full-time pitcher. While in Texas’s system, Martinez blossomed as a starter, quickly working his way up the Minor League ladder. He made his full-season debut in 2012 with low-A Hickory, making 20 starts across 31 appearances, to the tune of a 4.82 ERA. The following season Martinez was even better, going 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA split between Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco.

He spent last spring in minor league camp, at least officially and figured he was heading back to Double-A Frisco. However, he impressed management during a couple of cameo appearances and due to a myriad of injuries sustained by many members of the Rangers rotation, Martinez was given a spot in the Opening Day rotation despite having only five appearances above Class A ball — all of them at Frisco.

“I was completely shocked,” said Martinez, who already had his roommates lined up for Double-A. “It took me about half the season to realize that I was pitching at the highest possible level. It was an amazing learning experience. I learned a lot about the game and learned a lot about myself.”

As a rookie, Martinez appeared in 29 games and made 24 starts for the Rangers. He finished with a 5-12 record, a 4.55 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 140.1 innings. But he closed the season out on a high note.  In his final six starts, Martinez posted a 2.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.01.  He pitched into the sixth inning in each of those outings and didn’t surrender a walk in his final two games. He also got the special chance to talk pitching with Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who also serves as a special assistant to Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels, during the team’s last road trip of the season.

“There’s not enough information you can get from a guy like that. Just try picking his brain about anything, the mental aspect of the game, reading hitters swings, reading hitters takes, learning what to pick up on video when you’re scouting the other team,” Martinez told me in the Texas Rangers locker room. “It just goes on and on and everytime I see him I try to pick his brain”

With the addition of a changeup, his arsenal has improved drastically since last year. He also has an improved slider, a four-seam fastball with good command down in the zone and an occasional curveball. He attacks hitters, brings intelligence to the mound and has a bulldog mentality. For an 18th-round pick and former middle infielder, simply contributing to a major league staff as a rookie was an accomplishment in itself, but he is seemingly only getting better.

Martinez has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in 15 straight starts, tying Rich Hand for the longest streak in club history. He will enter Thursday’s start against the Red Sox with a 4-0 record and the third-lowest ERA in the American League at 1.96, trailing only Sonny Gray and Felix Hernandez. He has emerged as one of the surprises for the Rangers and all of baseball this season.

He may have took an unconventional path to get where he is, but he is thriving and believes that there will be many more Rams to follow in the near future.

“I know I wouldn’t be the last one and I don’t think it will be another X amount of years before that happens again. It’s great anytime I get a chance to represent not only Fordham, but my high school, Belen Jesuit, it’s where I come from and the area where all my buddies are. A lot of people that are out there on the mound with me every time I toe the rubber.”

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