Martin makes case for rotation in first '22 start

July 25th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Corbin Martin was never going to particularly enjoy his time with Triple-A Reno. He would have rather stayed in the big leagues. What player wouldn’t?

A demotion to the Minors is even tougher for pitchers being sent to the high-altitude ballparks of the Pacific Coast League. Hitters thrive there, which Martin already knew from his time with Reno during the 2021 season.

But there was a clear plan in place after the 26-year-old right-hander was sent down on May 6: 1. Build up innings. 2. Develop his curveball. 3. Return to the D-backs as a starter.

That final step occurred Sunday afternoon, when Martin took the mound at Chase Field for the series finale against the Nationals. Despite issuing five walks, Martin navigated four innings of one-run ball in the D-backs’ 4-3 loss. The righty came out of the outing with “mixed emotions,” but there were some positives to take away as he looks to solidify a spot in Arizona’s rotation.

Most importantly for Martin, he was glad to be pitching in Phoenix again rather than in Reno.

“You always want to be here, compared to there,” Martin said. “But I knew what I needed to do to get back here.”

After spending the first month of the season in the D-backs’ bullpen, Martin went back to Triple-A. He posted a 5.10 ERA in 12 starts for Reno, but he had been pitching well in recent weeks. Martin allowed only one run in 14 innings over his two most recent starts for the Aces, which included ending the first half with eight scoreless frames against Sugar Land on July 14.

Not only did Martin add length, but he now possesses an improved curveball. He stated that his primary objective during this stint in the Minors was to work on that pitch so it could be a more effective option to go along with his four primary offerings (four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and slider).

“When I would throw it, it would be either middle-middle or not even a chance for the hitter to swing at it,” Martin said. “It wasn’t a big adjustment, it was more so making it a better pitch. It took me a couple starts, and once I started to get a hold of it, I think it just got better and better over time.”

Even though Triple-A wasn’t the ideal setting for Martin at this stage in his career, the former top prospect -- who came to Arizona from Houston in the Zack Greinke trade in July 2019 -- thought his return to Reno was beneficial for his development after the fact. He then carried over some of that momentum into Sunday’s outing.

Although Martin allowed the Nationals to get a baserunner in each of his four innings, he escaped several troublesome situations. He stranded a pair of runners in the second, then left the bases loaded in the third by getting Yadiel Hernandez to ground out to end the inning. Martin’s lone run allowed came on a Ehire Adrianza single in the fourth.

Martin was most effective with his fastball, which he threw on 39 of his 71 pitches. But he struggled to land his offspeed pitches for strikes. And he didn’t have a great feel for his redefined curveball, which he threw only twice, partially due to the number of jams he encountered.

“He’s got to be able to put some secondary stuff on the plate and mix in that fastball,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s got real good stuff, it’s just a matter of being consistent with all pitches, and that wasn’t the case.”

In that regard, Martin didn’t view his performance as a step forward from his recent strong work. He didn’t attack the zone nearly enough, throwing 36 strikes and 35 balls.

“I feel like I got away from that today and tried to do too much and put myself in a situation to pretty much backtrack,” Martin said.

Lovullo doesn’t share rotation plans immediately after games, preferring to meet with his staff to discuss starters’ outings before mapping out their schedules. So it’s not official that Martin will pitch again next time through the rotation, though there’s reason to think he’ll get another opportunity.

With Zach Davies on the injured list, the D-backs have struggled to find back-end rotation options behind their top three (Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly). If Martin has an extended chance, he has the potential to secure a position.

“Every opportunity I get, that’s the goal, is to go prove something. Not only to them, but to myself,” Martin said. “I know I belong here and I’m going to continue to work to get better.”