Martin in control in Reading

Posted: August 14, 2012

RIGHTHANDER Ethan Martin wowed his new home crowd, making his first start for the Reading Phillies since being acquired in the Shane Victorino trade. But it most certainly wasn't how he started the game. It was how he finished.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' 2008 first-round draft pick took the hill in the top of the first, and after working deep into the count, registered his first punchout in an R-Phils uniform. Martin then prepared to face the Binghamton Mets' second batter of the game as Wilmer Flores stepped to the plate. After missing with his first two pitches, Martin came back with a fastball right over the heart of the plate. Flores crushed it over the centerfield wall for a home run.

That's all Martin needed to calm himself down and take control of the game.

"To be honest, I think the home run settled me in," Martin said. "I was a little nervous going into it, being my first start, but once I gave up the home run I was like all right, nothing much worse can go on now, let's just get back into the groove of things, and I settled right down."

In his Reading debut, Martin led the Phillies to a 4-1 win, allowing just one run and four hits in six innings of work. He struck out six and retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.

Martin, who pitched for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League before being traded to the Phillies along with pitcher Josh Lindblom, was in uncharted territory the day he was traded. As a Double A pitcher making his home in southern Tennessee, Martin wasn't used to seeing his name running across the screens of ESPN and MLBTV. Although Lindblom, who is currently pitching for the Phillies, was considered the centerpiece of the deal, Martin was humbled to be a piece in a trade for a two-time All-Star and World Series champion.

"It's a great honor, just knowing that somebody wanted me that much," Martin said. "It takes me almost back to when I was drafted, knowing that somebody wanted me that badly to draft me. Now getting traded for Shane Victorino, it's just a high honor the way I look at it."

After struggling during his first few years in the minors, Martin began to hit his stride within the Dodgers system after he was promoted to Double A to start the year. While pitching for his former club, Martin went 8-6 for the Lookouts with a 3.58 ERA in 20 starts and was named a Southern League mid-season All-Star.

But the 23-year-old righty is playing his best baseball in Reading. Since joining the Phillies, Martin is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA, allowing just two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. Martin continues to pitch to contact, having allowed nine hits since joining his new team, but the number of free passes he has issued is down considerably. Martin has walked just two batters since joining the Phillies; in Chattanooga, he allowed 61 walks in 118 innings.

Martin's fastball command continues to improve, but it is his curveball that leaves hitters stunned at the plate. He consistently will rely on his curve as a strikeout weapon, and being able to command his breaking ball has instilled Martin with additional confidence as he attempts to move up within his new farm system.

"It was a great feeling," Martin said. "The first time I threw that curve I said to myself, ‘All right, here I go, this is going to be a good night.' "

Maybe all Martin needed was a change of scenery to conquer his command issues. Receiving a fresh start with a new organization means every coach he encounters is a fresh set of eyes, which could hold the key to taking his mechanics to the next level.

Transitioning to a supportive fan base can't hurt either. Now a resident of the city affectionately dubbed "Baseballtown," Martin's first start came in front of a moderately sized Reading crowd of 6,227 fans. But the pitcher was taken aback by the amount of filled seats in his new ballpark — the crowd was twice the size of the amount of fans Martin was used to seeing in Chattanooga.

"The crowd was great. I walked out here and was like, ‘Is this what it's like every night?' and everyone else said, ‘Pretty much.' Wow, this is impressive," Martin said. "The atmosphere here is just unreal. I've never played in a minor league park like this." n

Contact Daniel Carp at dcarp@phillynews.com

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