Martinez will hone pitching skills in Japan

Former Rangers right-hander looking to find consistent role

January 9th, 2018

ARLINGTON -- spent the past four years as the Rangers' de facto sixth starter.

Now, he will be pitching in a six-man rotation in Japan, and it could be a great move for his career.

Martinez, who became a free agent when the Rangers non-tendered him in November, has agreed to a contract with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. It is a move that once worked out well for teammates , Tony Barnette, and .

"I'm excited," Martinez said. "They showed some interest and we gave it some thought. The more I thought about it, and I spoke to Colby Lewis, Tony Barnette and Anthony Bass about their experiences ... it seemed like a great opportunity."

Martinez also spoke with former Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, who led the Chiba Lotte Marines to the Japan Series title in 2005.

"Going to Japan will give me a chance to have a consistent role," Martinez said. "They use a six-man rotation so I will get a chance to pitch once a week. It will give me the opportunity to be a starter from beginning to end and work on my craft without any interruption."

Martinez knows about interruption. That was pretty much the story of his time with the Rangers. Martinez unexpectedly made the club's rotation at the start of the 2014 season. Since then, he was sent to and called back from Triple-A no fewer than 13 times. There were also occasional side trips to the Rangers' bullpen.

Martinez had periods of success -- he was the club's Player of the Month for April 2015 -- but never anything sustained to the point of earning a permanent spot in the rotation.

"Yeah, at times it was definitely frustrating at times," Martinez said. "But it was just something where I had to roll with the punches. When a pitcher has options, you don't have much say unless you are absolutely dealing. It just so happens that changes need to be made and I was the guy who had to go down or go to the bullpen. It was frustrating at times but that's what it was.

"This is an opportunity to pitch consistently and I am looking forward to it."

Lewis, Barnette, Mikolas and Bass are among a group of Major League players who revived their careers by playing in Japan, as detailed recently by's Doug Miller.

Martinez could find himself in a better spot to return to the Majors in 1-2 years after playing in Japan.

"I'm not looking that far into the future," Martinez said. "I'm going over there to help them win and get better at my craft."

Martinez, who is from Miami and played collegiately at Fordham University, is undaunted by the challenge of pitching in a foreign country. He went to the Dominican Republic last offseason for extra work, an unusual move for an American pitcher with his length of service time.

The Fighters play in Sapporo, the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido. It was the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics and the annual Snow Festival. and Shohei Ohtani are among those who have played for the Fighters. The Rangers announced a working relationship with the Fighters last week, but that was coincidental and had nothing to do with Martinez's agreement to play with them.

"I'm extremely excited to explore their culture and the way they do baseball," Martinez said. "I played winter ball last year in the Dominican and that was a blast so that's what I am looking forward to. I love playing baseball and I was fortunate to play at the Major League level. I'm looking forward to this."

Joining him will be his wife Kimberly, who is expecting the couple's first child in the spring.

"She is all for it," Martinez said. "She is super excited, it's a new opportunity and an adventure. She is completely comfortable with it and looking forward to it."