Roommates in friendly battle for rotation spot

Close friends Martinez, Gonzalez bond over heritage as they compete in spring

March 9th, 2016

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- In their spare time, Rangers pitchers Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez like to go fishing together, either at the community pond across the street or at Lake Pleasant north of the city.

They also tried a session of paintball nearby, along with the nightly barbecue at the apartment. They are both of Cuban ancestry and both are from south Florida, so it would seem only natural that they would gravitate toward each other.

"We just like hanging out and enjoying each other's company," Martinez said. "We just have a lot in common."

So they do what close roommates normally do in Spring Training, but with one small minor twist.

They are competing head-to-head for a spot in the Rangers' rotation and, unless there is a significant injury to someone else, there is only one opening. That must make for some interesting and perhaps uncomfortable conversations around the backyard grill.

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"Nah, we don't talk about it at all," Martinez said.

"I don't think it's awkward at all," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully we both make the team, either him as a starter or me as a reliever, or the other way around. Both of us are good enough to be the fifth starter."

So apparently nobody is sticking pins into a voodoo doll or trying to put the evil eye on the other.

"We talk about how we pitched, but I expect it to go well for him," Martinez said. "We don't wish anything bad on each other."

Gonzalez started on Wednesday in Goodyear, Ariz., against the Reds, with Martinez staying back to do his work in Surprise. Martinez is scheduled to start on Thursday against the White Sox in Surprise, and Gonzalez will be watching from the dugout.

"I'll cheer him on," Gonzalez said. "He is a teammate. I want him to succeed. If he succeeds, the whole team succeeds. If we all do well, it makes it tough on the decision-makers."

Martinez, 25, is 17 months older than Gonzalez, and they grew up a couple hours apart in south Florida. They didn't know each other back then, but the common denominator is their families both came from Cuba, and they have strong feelings about their shared heritage.

"Absolutely, that's where we both came from," Martinez said. "My grandfathers did a lot to get here and provide my parents with an education. In turn, they gave me a good education. Yeah, it means a lot to us."

"If my grandfather hadn't gotten on that plane, I wouldn't be here," Gonzalez said. "Who knows, maybe I would have defected by boat. Maybe a dolphin would have brought me to shore. But my Cuban heritage is very important."

Martinez has never been to Cuba. Gonzalez went there once when he was seven, but he doesn't remember too much about it. Both pitchers would like to go back.

"I would love to make one of those goodwill trips that MLB put on this winter," Gonzalez said. "I would love to be a part of that next year or whenever. I do see myself going back to Cuba at some point. I want to see that place developed for everybody, boost the economy and make it a tourist attraction again."

Martinez and Gonzalez didn't meet until a few years ago during the winter. Rangers Minor League pitching coordinator Danny Clark made an offseason trip to Florida to check up on a number of the club's pitching prospects living in the area.

"We hit it off immediately and we started doing our offseason throwing programs together," Martinez said. "I knew who he was before we even met. Besides being a first-round pick, I knew he was from Miami. I knew we would hit it off because we have a lot in common, our heritage and our family beliefs."

Martinez was an 18th-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Fordham. Gonzalez went in the first round in '13 out of Oral Roberts, and he has been one step behind. Martinez began '13 at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, and he was promoted to Double-A Frisco on Aug. 6. Gonzalez, after signing with the Rangers, started '13 at low Class A Spokane, but he was called up to Myrtle Beach, replacing Martinez in the Pelicans' rotation.

They were both in the Rangers' rotation for parts of 2015. Gonzalez was 4-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 10 starts and four relief appearances, while Martinez posted a 7-7 record with a 3.96 ERA in 21 starts and three relief appearances.

Both have had stretches of success in the big leagues, but also mixed with enough struggles to keep them from being a lock for the rotation. That's why the two roommates find themselves competing against each other for a coveted spot on the Major League roster.

But they have plenty to share with each other without driving themselves crazy over the competition.

"That just puts undue pressure on yourself," Martinez said. "We know what's at stake, but there's no reason to think about it or dwell on it. We just don't talk about it."