Fans of the Nationals know that there are few guys worth cheering for this year on the Washington Nationals than J.D. Martin.
A first round pick of the Indians. Then, injuries. Tommy John surgery. Eight years in the minor leagues. He lost half a dozen ticks on his heater, and had to remake himself as a finesse righty--the rarest and most difficult of transformations.
This off-season, he was a minor league free agent and chose to leave the only organization he'd ever known for a team where he figured he'd have a better shot at the bigs. (Reports that he was dumped by Cleveland are wrong. Martin left.) Then, after all that, at age 26, he battled back and against all odds finally got his chance.
J.D. Martin is Roy Hobbs.
Unfortunately, his bad luck has continued in his first starts in the majors. Of course, he had the good luck of getting the Mets and the Padres, two of the worst hitting teams in baseball.
But Fizzleman for whatever inexplicable reason decides twice to put the horrid double-play combination of Ron Belliard and Cristian Guzman behind him. In the Mets start, he also had Willie Harris at third. It's hard to assemble a worse defensive alignment.
So with those stone gloves behind him, Martin got stuck with five earned runs in the Mets game when he deserved no more than three. Then, after retiring six out of six in the third and fourth, Fizzleman pulls him for a pinch hitter.
Basically, the manager said, "Hey kid, welcome to the big leagues. You pitched pretty good, but here's an 11.25 ERA anyway, just because I hate you."
Last night, Martin had Zimmerman at third at least. It was again Belliard, whose range resembles that of a beach volleyball player, at second and Guzman, who's not much better, at short.
But facing the AAA Padres, Martin did fine. His command wasn't quite right, uncharacteristically walking one and throwing just 17 of 28 pitches for strikes. But he got it done, getting through two innings with no runs and just two hits, one a Belliard gift on a groundball to his left that's an out if Alberto Gonzalez or Anderson Hernandez is out there.
And honestly the other hit he allowed was a catchable ball too. It would have been a great play, but a plus-fielder could have tracked down Everth Cabrera's first-inning double. Give Martin Mark Buerhle's fielding support and he'd be damn near perfect too.
Regardless, the rains came after two scoreless (actually about 30 minutes after two scoreless--the umps weirdly began the rain delay well before any actual rain started to fall, and they could have gotten one or two more in before the real rain started), and Martin's day was over, that grossly inflated ERA still at 7.50.
His groundball rate is way up at 65%. He's given up just one walk against 28 batters faced. No, he's not overpowering anyone, striking out next to no one. But his command and groundball tendencies are more than enough to succeed, if only the guys behind him could catch the ball.
But his BABIP is way up at .386, and just 54.6% of his runners allowed have been stranded. His fielding independent ERA is 3.22, and his tRA* is 4.69 (tRA doesn't distinguish between earned and unearned runs allowed, so subtract 0.40 from that to estimate a deserved ERA.)
It's a small sample size, but whether you're looking at the fancy stats or just watching the games, it's obvious that Martin's ERA is about double what it should be. But that's what happens when you field the defense that Riggleman's putting out there behind J.D.
Next time out, Martin will have a much tougher assignment--the Brewers, who are fourth in the NL in runs scored. His luck (and help) better improve, because he deserves a little good fortune to come his way.