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Outfielder Nick Martini called on to pitch in 2019 debut

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He’s the 13th position player to pitch in Oakland A’s history.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Nick Martini waited a long time to get back to the majors. He debuted last season just before his 28th birthday and played like he belonged in the bigs, but he’s found himself stuck in Triple-A this year, blocked behind a crowded Oakland outfield. He finally got the call this week, on July 22, but not exactly in the way he might have expected.

The A’s faced the division-leading Astros on Monday, on the road in Houston, and the game was over almost as quickly as it began. The Astros scored four runs in the 2nd, and then seven more in the 3rd, building an early 11-0 lead that would never seriously be challenged. The A’s wasted no time waving the white flag, as they emptied their bench in the 4th and 5th innings to give a few stars some rest in garbage time.

Among the reserves was Martini, who entered to play his normal position of left field. He eventually batted in the 6th inning and struck out against Gerrit Cole, one of Cole’s 11 Ks on the night. Then things got weird.

With the score still 11-1 in the 8th inning, the Astros came to the plate for their final ups, and manager Bob Melvin chose not to waste another pitcher on the meaningless inning. Instead, he did what most A’s fans were probably doing by that point of the evening and ordered a Martini. Here’s the game log:

  • Josh Reddick walks
  • Robinson Chirinos walks
  • Aledmys Diaz flies out
  • George Springer pops out
  • Tony Kemp strikes outs

The lefty couldn’t find the zone against the first two batters, leading to a pair of five-pitch walks. Then catcher Josh Phegley went out for a chat to calm him down, perhaps by telling stories about the time he struck out Adam Jones. That visit did the trick, as the first pitch to Diaz went right down the middle and drew a swing, resulting a routine flyout. Springer took a mighty rip at his first pitch too, but it jammed him and he popped it to short.

The final batter was Kemp, who is normally an inexplicable A’s killer. He’s objectively not a good hitter, but for some reason he just shreds Oakland pitching every time he sees them. Turns out the trick is to not let him face Oakland pitching at all, but rather an outfielder instead. Martini got ahead 1-2 with a couple nice offerings down in the zone, and then Kemp chased a 75 mph heater above his eyes for Strike 3.

In the top of the 9th inning, Martini came to bat again, making him a position player pitcher who was hitting in an AL game. He grounded out. Martini’s only career homer came off a catcher who was pitching, so I was hoping his next one would come while he was technically the pitcher himself, but alas.

Statcast clocked Martini between 63-75 mph, with an average of 68. It called his pitches sliders, but that’s normal for a position player — they throw such low velocity, and with no track record for the system to look back on, that it assumes those must be breaking balls. Martini confirmed that he threw “all fastballs,” but joked that he “might have mixed a few (curveballs) in there.”

Martini was called up earlier on Monday when pitcher Brett Anderson was placed on paternity leave. At the time I suggested that a spare reliever would have been a more useful addition than Martini, but it turns out they got both out of the move. There was even some foreshadowing for this emergency assignment, based on Melvin’s pregame instructions to Martini.

Martini’s career line: 0.00 ERA, 1 ip, 1 K, 2 BB, 0 hits, 7.22 FIP

This was the 14th time that the Oakland A’s have called on a position player to pitch, and the 13th different player to do it. Here’s the full list (there are several more from the Philly and KC days, though):

  • Jeff Newman 9/14/77
  • Wayne Gross 5/18/83
  • Garry Hancock 6/25/84
  • Mark Wagner 8/20/84
  • Vance Law 10/2/91
  • Kevin Seitzer 5/2/93
  • Frank Menechino 7/18/00
  • Ike Davis 4/21/15
  • Ike Davis (again) 8/16/15
  • Josh Phegley 5/8/16
  • Tyler Ladendorf 6/3/16
  • Jake Smolinski 6/13/18
  • Kendrys Morales 4/20/19
  • Nick Martini 7/22/19

A few notes on that list: The first two (Newman and Gross) were All-Stars for the A’s, though not in the same years they pitched. Seitzer was an All-Star for two other teams. The best performance came from either Gross, who threw 2⅓ scoreless innings (2 hits, 1 BB, 1 HBP, and stranded an inherited runner), or Hancock, who retired all four batters he faced (and also stranded an inherited runner). Davis tossed a scoreless inning each time he pitched. The only ones who allowed runs were Menechino (four runs in pre-humidor Coors Field), Smolinski (two runs against these same Astros), and Morales (one run against the Blue Jays team he’d started the year with; in 2018 he pitched an inning for the Jays against the A’s).