VIERA, Fla. – A year ago, manager Freddi Gonzalez’s Marlins didn’t have a spot for reliever Cristhian Martinez on their major league roster.
Today, Gonzalez’s Braves are glad that was the case.
Martinez had five strikeouts in two innings Sunday during the Braves’ 5-0 win against the Washington Nationals, continuing to make a strong case for inclusion in the opening-day bullpen.
Starter Tommy Hanson worked three crisp innings (one strikeout, one walk) and combined with four relievers on a two-hit shutout as the Braves won for the sixth time in their past seven games.
“Every time we run him out there he runs up zeroes,” Gonzalez said of Martinez, who struck out five of the seven batters he faced on his 29th birthday, including slugger Jayson Werth on a called third strike in the fourth inning.
Laynce Nix’s groundball single with one out in the fifth inning was the first hit by the Nationals. Martinez struck out the next two batters, Danny Espinosa and Michael Aubrey, both looking.
In three spring appearances, Martinez has allowed two hits and one walk in 5-2/3 scoreless innings.
With six bullpen jobs presumably set – right-handers Peter Moylan, Craig Kimbrel, Scott Linebrink; lefties Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill – Martinez could be competing with Scott Proctor, Anthony Varvaro, Juan Abreu and Steve Marek for one spot.
Martinez has more versatility than those others, which his former Marlins manager values. (Gonzalez was fired as Marlins manager in June, and hired as Braves manager in October.)
“He can give you two innings. He can give you three innings. He can spot-start for you,” said Gonzalez, who had Martinez on his 2009 team. “He can be the guy in that can really save the bullpen at any given time, because he throws strikes. And he’s not afraid to challenge hitters.
“He’s a guy that you don’t have to use for five days, six days, then all of a sudden you get into a situation where, in a long rain delay, you can lose your starter and run him out there and feel real, real good about it.”
A year ago, the Marlins optioned Martinez to Triple-A late in spring training, then designated him for assignment April 3. The Braves claimed him off waivers five days later, and Martinez split time between the major and Triple-A Gwinnett.
His stats in 18 appearances for the Braves weren’t too impressive – 4.58 ERA and .272 opponents’ average, with 28 hits and 14 runs allowed in 26 innings.
However, before being charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning in his last game Sept. 1 against Philadelphia, he had a 2.30 ERA and .220 opponents’ average in 11 appearances over three months, with one homer, four walks and 13 strikeouts in 15-2/3 innings.
As a Marlins rookie in 2009, Martinez had a 5.13 ERA in 15 appearances, including a 3.86 ERA and .224 opponents’ average in 10 games after the All-Star break.