ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Diamondbacks’ Justin Martinez continues to show positive signs during loss to Orioles

May 10, 2024, 8:54 PM | Updated: 9:22 pm

Arizona Diamondbacks' Justin Martinez...

Arizona Diamondbacks' Justin Martinez during a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Young right-handed pitcher Justin Martinez’s reliability in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen is becoming something to monitor more closely.

Manager Torey Lovullo called his name in a higher leverage moment than usual Friday at the Baltimore Orioles on a nationally-televised stage against the American League’s best team.

Martinez took the ball with one out and a runner on second base down 4-2, in danger of letting the game get away with Baltimore’s No. 2 hitter Adley Rutschman digging in.

Martinez dispatched Rutschman on four pitches with an absurd splitter on the outer half. Following an intentional walk to Ryan O’Hearn, Martinez punched out Ryan Mountcastle on three pitches: a 100 mph sinker on the low-outside corner, 101 mph sinker up-and-in and a splitter that dodged low-and-away past Mountcastle’s bat.

Lovullo left the 22-year-old fireballer out there for the eighth, and Martinez struck out the side with a walk mixed in. Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins flipped his bat down while looking off in the distance after he chased a splitter that fell right off the table to end the inning.

Ten swings, seven misses and no balls in play.

Martinez arguably has the best raw stuff in the bullpen, and not because he can hit 102 mph on the radar gun — he led the National League with 18 pitches over 101 mph entering Friday.

His splitter and slider have been untouchable this season with a 43.8% and 41.7% whiff rate entering Friday, respectively, his two most effective pitches.

But this was a pitcher who during spring training threw bullpens into a physical strike zone set up to give him a visual aid. He walked 11 hitters in 10 innings during his cup of coffee with the D-backs last year, allowing 14 runs. When his command would become MLB viable — if it could get there — was a question entering the season.

While eight walks — including the intentional base on balls to be fair — in 10.2 innings is a higher number than ideal, he is essentially striking out everyone else. Martinez has 14 punch outs already; that’s 30%.

He has allowed one earned run, and he was not even in the game when it happened. A Joe Mantiply wild pitch let in an inherited runner against the Dodgers during the bees game last week. No one who has thrown an inning with the D-backs this year has a lower ERA than his 0.84.

Martinez started the year in Triple-A Reno, and Aces manager Blake Lalli told Arizona Sports’ The Ain’t No Fang podcast after his first recall Martinez had taken “big steps.”

“He goes right after guys. He’s got a three-pitch max and they all can be devastating at times. He’s kind of gotten away from the guy who sprays it. He knows what he’s trying to do with each pitch and he’s doing it,” Lalli said.

The right-hander has not been used often in high leverage situations, but he has done his job with seven scoreless appearances out of eight.

Arizona’s bullpen received closer Paul Sewald back from the injured list this week, a significant development for a unit that has been inconsistent without him. Ryan Thompson is having a stellar season (1.20 ERA). Kevin Ginkel has held his own minus a couple blips (2.93 ERA) and is now out of the ninth inning role.

After the back-end trio is when it gets a bit more uneven (bullpen ERA of 4.67), which is why it is such a big deal if Martinez can be counted on to turn his early-season success into a greater footing on the roster.

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