Rookie Martin falters as Phillies fall to Braves

Rightfielder Darin Ruf snags a fly ball by Atlanta's Kris Medlen in the seventh inning. Ruf, who had one of the Phillies'six hits, earlier misplayed a ball hit by Medlen into a double.
Rightfielder Darin Ruf snags a fly ball by Atlanta's Kris Medlen in the seventh inning. Ruf, who had one of the Phillies'six hits, earlier misplayed a ball hit by Medlen into a double. (KEVIN C. COX / Getty Images)
Posted: August 15, 2013

ATLANTA - This stadium, the one Ethan Martin visited as a kid to watch his favorite team, displayed the promise of his right arm on Tuesday night. His own cheering section formed at Turner Field. He threw his fastball with conviction, but five innings in his third major-league start - a 3-1 Phillies loss - served to point out his inexperience.

"The kid stuck in there," Charlie Manuel said.

That is why the Phillies manager and others view Martin as an eventual reliever. He has the stuff: 62 of his 96 pitches were fastballs and he showed no fear in throwing it. More and more pitches magnified Martin's flaws. Martin, a 24-year-old rookie, has not pitched beyond five innings in any of his first three starts.

The fourth inning was emblematic. He retired the first two Braves on six pitches. Neither out left the infield. Then he issued a four-pitch walk to Kris Medlen, the opposing pitcher. Jason Heyward struck out on three pitches, the third an 0-2 fastball over the plate. Martin blew it past him.

"The one thing that really killed me was Medlen," Martin said.

Atlanta cracked Martin, who was raised 90 minutes away, for three runs. Two scored on one Chris Johnson swing at a fat fastball in the third inning. The other happened when Darin Ruf misplayed a double by Medlen in the second.

Martin was not especially efficient in the minors. He pitched at least seven innings in just three of his 21 starts at triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Dodgers drafted him as a starter in the first round of the 2008 draft, made him a reliever in 2011, then shifted him back into the rotation in 2012 before trading him last July to Philadelphia for Shane Victorino.

Two scouts who have watched Martin in 2013 believe he is best utilized as a reliever. There is no shame in that, seeing as relief help is a pressing need for this franchise.

"He's a max-effort guy," Manuel said. "When you watch him, you probably think of a bullpen piece. A strong arm in the pen. That's what runs through your mind. He has a tight breaking ball. But he's young. He has some time to see if he can start. It's not the time to push him back in the bullpen."

Martin could follow a path similar to that of Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. Both pitched in the majors as starters before thriving in a bullpen role. Both had a powerful fastball and lacked the deep inventory of secondary pitches required of a starter.

The Phillies are in no rush to decide Martin's fate, although the numbers game could hasten his transition to a relief job. Jonathan Pettibone will make a rehab start Thursday for double-A Reading. The 23-year-old rookie was solid but not spectacular in his 18 starts before succumbing to a shoulder strain. He could return in September and push Martin to the bullpen, although Pettibone is not guaranteed a rotation spot.

Martin's fastball hit 94 m.p.h. and 95 m.p.h. in the first inning. By the third, it traveled 91 to 93. Manuel first noticed Martin's blazing fastball in the pitcher's debut. Fueled by adrenaline, he threw as hard as 97 m.p.h. that day. That is a talent the Phillies could seek to harness in shorter bursts.

"Whatever they have planned," Martin said, "I just want to leave a good impression with them."


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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