Back in bigs, Martínez stymies Yanks in gem

A's righty relies on changeup to deliver strong performance in 6th MLB start

August 29th, 2022

OAKLAND -- If Adrián Martínez is going to succeed at the Major League level, it’s going to come on the strength of his changeup.

Though the 25-year-old right-hander brings a fastball that can max out around 96 mph with some sink and a decent slider, the changeup allows Martínez to make hitters look downright foolish at times. Look no further than the way he used it to fluster a potent Yankees lineup in Sunday’s 4-1 A’s victory at the Oakland Coliseum.

Holding New York to one run, three hits and two walks while striking out six over 5 1/3 innings, Martínez threw the changeup for 25 of his 93 pitches. He induced 17 swinging strikes and six whiffs with the pitch, as Martínez used it as the putaway offering on four strikeouts. Two of those came against top American League MVP candidate Aaron Judge, who both times swung through changeups that sharply dropped down in the zone.

“His changeup was dominant today,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He got a lot of swing-and-miss on the changeup. Six punchouts against that lineup, it was a great start.”

What makes Martínez’s changeup so impressive is the massive depth it brings to hitters. Entering play Sunday, his movement on the pitch vs. the average changeup (compared to changes thrown at a similar velocity and release point) carried a vertical drop of plus-9.9 inches, the highest among all Major League pitchers.

For a hitter standing in against Martínez, the amount of movement on the changeup almost gives the illusion that the pitch is coming in from a left-handed pitcher instead of a right-hander. That, along with a sinker that maxed out at 96.4 mph, allowed the rookie to thrive in his sixth Major League start.

“His changeup is probably his best pitch,” A’s catcher Shea Langeliers said. “It’s just nasty. But today, he did a really good job of locating his fastball. When you locate your fastball, it makes your offspeed that much better. Coming into today, I caught Adrián a bunch [with Triple-A Las Vegas]. We like to work with each other and had a good game plan going in.”

It’s been tough for the A’s to get a gauge on Martínez, who is now in his fourth stint in the big leagues this season. A quick glance at his Minor League numbers might be cause for concern, as he’s posted a 5.72 ERA in 18 Triple-A starts. But whenever he’s come up to make a start for Oakland, Martínez has shown the potential of a pitcher who possesses the stuff to excel at this level, with Sunday’s outing providing another example.

“This kid just seems to feed off a big environment,” Kotsay said. “The Triple-A numbers don’t show how he’s able go out and perform here. He did that today against one of the better lineups in the league.”

Having shown capable of such a performance, the next step for Martínez is to work on doing it consistently, which can be a challenge for young pitchers. With Kotsay hinting at Martínez likely getting more of an extended look in the big leagues over the final month of the season, the opportunity is there for him to seize a starting role for the future.

“Sometimes, his biggest thing is his stuff is so good, but he would try to make it even nastier,” Langeliers said. “He’d try to make the perfect pitch. But hitting a baseball is really hard. You don’t have to be perfect every time. Just execute a quality pitch. You can tell he’s getting more comfortable on the mound and just attacking the strike zone.”

For Martínez, it was admittedly difficult at times on Sunday to not let the game speed up on him. In those moments, he circled the mound and took a deep breath to regroup and continued his attacking mindset. Gaining confidence from taming the Yankees with his dazzling changeup, he’ll now look to carry that momentum into September.

“I think the whole world knows the changeup is one of my better pitches,” Martínez said. “I was throwing it in low counts, and I felt aggressive, which is how I always want to pitch, so I’m happy with this great outing.”