There weren’t many expectations for Adrian Martinez in 2023 after a poor Oakland Athletics debut the previous year. Though unspectacular, the 26-year-old righty had a solid year out of the A’s bullpen as a mop-up man and earned himself another extended look at some point next season.
During the A’s 2021-22 offseason firesale, they acquired Martinez along with teenage shortstop prospect Euribiel Angeles from the San Diego Padres in exchange for fan-favorite Sean Manaea and Aaron Holiday. He wasn’t highly touted at the time and was considered more of the secondary piece, but he was coming off a solid minor league year in the Padres’ system and the A’s hoped his nasty changeup could make him at least a backend starter.
What were the expectations?
The 2022 season was a big step back for Martinez’s outlook as he put up a 6.24 ERA in his first 12 major league starts. Things didn’t go much better at AAA where he had a 5.72 ERA, albeit in an extremely hitter-friendly home ballpark. On the bright side, his strikeout and walk numbers were still solid at both levels. He also pitched as a reliever for Team Mexico during the 2023 World Baseball Classic in March. Due to multiple injuries on the A’s pitching staff, Martinez earned one of the last Opening Day bullpen spots and was expected to pitch serviceable bulk innings mostly as a mop-up man in losses.
The righty didn’t start the season well, getting knocked around in six April games to the tune of a 6.75 ERA before going the 15-day IL with a right elbow strain. However, his peripherals weren’t bad and FIP liked him better at 4.93. Despite performing well in a few shorter outings in May, the A’s decided to send him back to AAA to get more innings as a starter. He struggled even more in Las Vegas, putting up a ghastly 8.45 ERA while failing to strikeout batters or prevent walks.
Nevertheless, the A’s gave Martinez another chance in August and he turned his season around. In 31 1⁄3 innings, the righty struck out 27 batters and walked 11 on his way to a decent 4.02 ERA/4.95 FIP. He still mostly pitched in losses — there were plenty of those to go around — but he showed he could at least be a serviceable arm in a low-stakes bullpen role.
What went right? What went wrong?
On top of his second-half bounceback, Martinez also showed that he pitches quite well at the Coliseum, holding opposing teams to a 3.98 ERA/4.39 FIP in 32 2⁄3 innings. His struggles were mostly on the road where he had a 5.79 ERA/5.10 FIP and only struck out 14.4% of batters. He’s not an extreme flyball pitcher so it’s unclear why his home/road splits are so different, but they were even more dramatic the previous year. He’ll need to prove he can pitch at any ballpark in order to solidify his role moving forward.
After a solid sophomore season, Martinez will have another chance to break the Opening Day roster in 2024. He’ll have competition though with many young starters on the roster that may benefit from starting the season in the major league bullpen rather than going back to the minors. It’s doubtful Martinez will get another shot at the rotation but he should have ample innings to prove he can be a solid major league reliever.