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Pitcher Nick Martinez finding Japan to his taste after joining Nippon Ham from Rangers

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Nick Martinez is still making a lot of adjustments to his new baseball life in Japan. He’s had to acclimate himself to a new style of baseball, a new culture, the travel and learn how to pack for NPB road trips.

As far Japanese food, however, the sushi-loving native of Miami was in his comfort zone the moment he stepped off the plane.

“The food is great,” Martinez told The Japan Times. “I love sushi and I’ve been crushing yakiniku (grilled meat). So, I haven’t missed a beat with the food.”

The 27-year-old hasn’t really missed a beat on the mound either.

Martinez made his debut March 31 against the Seibu Lions, facing perhaps the top lineup in the Pacific League. He threw six solid innings, yielding a pair of runs in a losing effort. He earned his first NPB victory in his next outing, on April 6 against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Martinez went the distance in a nine-inning game for the first time in his life, allowing only a pair of unearned runs as he induced groundouts in bunches and struck out four.

Overall, Martinez is 1-1 with a 1.20 ERA and is the only Pacific League pitcher with a complete game.

Martinez spent the last four years with the Texas Rangers, for whom he made 88 appearances and started 68 games from 2014-2017. Martinez was 17-30 with a 4.77 ERA in 415⅓ innings with Texas. He logged the fourth-most innings among Rangers pitchers over that span, according to Evan Grant, the Rangers writer for the Dallas Morning News.

He became a free agent after the 2017 season and signed with the Fighters in January.

“It was just a good opportunity for me at the right time,” he said. “I had been let go by the Rangers and I wanted to get a chance to play for a whole season and develop my craft. It was more of a personal gain for me to come out here and get better as a player. I’m very fortunate the Fighters were able to give me the opportunity.”

Martinez is still getting a feel for things in Japan. A cutter helped him keep the ball down against the Marines at homer-friendly Tokyo Dome, but he’s still making adjustments.

“The adjustment I had to make here is there’s not a whole lot of swing-and-miss,” Martinez said. “They’re really good at contact. In the States, they’re smart and they have a bit more power, but there are also holes in their swings. If you execute those pitches, you get a swing-and-miss, but if you don’t, it’s more likely a home run or double.

“Here, there are less holes. Guys are able to foul off enough pitches until the pitcher makes a mistake and they get their base hit. They’re also smart, they lay off pitches they know are out of the zone. They’re very good at contact, hardly any swing-and-miss, so you have to be very precise with your pitches.”

Martinez is in his first year in Japan, but he’s not a total stranger to Japanese baseball. He played with outfielder Hirotoshi Onaka in the lower levels of the Rangers’ organization and alongside Yu Darvish at the MLB level.

He was also teammates with former Hiroshima Carp hurler Colby Lewis, former Tokyo Yakult Swallows reliever Tony Barnette, and former Fighters reliever Anthony Bass while with Texas.

“I know a lot of guys that have come over here and enjoyed it,” Martinez said.

Martinez is enjoying his own experience in the early stages of his NPB career.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve come over here with an open mind and eager to learn the culture. I’ve always been fond of it.

“Obviously, I’ve played with a few Japanese players. Hirotoshi Onaka was the first Japanese player I played with, in short-season and we played together in low-A also. Just very fond of the way he plays the game and his culture. Then I played with Darvish the last four years. So I’ve always just been intrigued.”