San Diego Padres: Nick Martinez takes big step forward in becoming top setup reliever

San Diego Padres pitcher Nick Martinez
San Diego Padres pitcher Nick Martinez / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

As the 2023 Major League Baseball season heads toward the halfway point, the San Diego Padres have been a major disappointment. The offense has taken a step backward production-wise, while the bullpen has been outstanding since May 1.

It is not a coincidence that the upward trend began when Padres manager Bob Melvin moved Nick Martinez from the starting rotation to the bullpen. He has taken a step forward in becoming one of the top setup relievers in baseball.

San Diego Padres moving Nick Martinez to bullpen was no-brainer

Shaping a bullpen is the hardest task a manager has from year-to-year. They must give themselves plenty of room to refrain from overworking their relievers. A manager must exhibit confidence that his bullpen staff can end scoring threats without damage occurring.

No question, Martinez has become the much-needed bridge to Padres closer Josh Hader. The Padres setup relievers failed miserably in high-level situations early in the season. The combination of poor pitching performances and multiple arm injuries (Nabil Crismatt, Luis Garcia, Robert Suarez and Drew Pomerantz) affected the bullpen options available to Melvin. It was tough to manage games with the limited availability of late-inning arms.

Martinez has been a welcome sign coming out of the bullpen for the Friar Faithful. His performance has allowed the Padres to close out games without much stress. However, Hader has had three blown saves since May 7th as his confidence has taken a hit. Melvin must get Hader back to form if the Friars are going to move up in the standings.

Data doesn't lie ... Nick Martinez is a bullpen gem for San Diego Padres

Without getting too deep into the statistical data, Martinez has been an analytics marvel. The numbers do not lie, as Martinez would be considered an average major league starting pitcher but a dominant late-inning reliever.

In four April starts, he averaged over six innings per start but allowed 30 baserunners with a 4.01 ERA. In 16 relief appearances, Martinez has a 1.17 ERA and struck out 22 batters in 23 innings pitched. More importantly, he has induced four double plays that ended any potential scoring threat from the opposition.

The Friar Faithful have been pleased with his ability to attack the strike zone and record outs in close games. The move to the pen makes the Padres look like geniuses.

Steve Wilson and Brent Honeywell solidified middle relief role

Other pieces in the bullpen have contributed to the team’s success. Steve Wilson and Brent Honeywell have kept opposing hitters off-balance and uncomfortable at the plate. Combined, they have struck out 60 batters while allowing 42 hits in 58.2 innings pitched. Now, Melvin can play situational baseball with both pitchers before bringing Martinez into the game.

Middle relief has never been more important for the Friars. Often, the middle innings have determined whether the Padres have won or lost this season. Wilson has a .165 batting average versus opposing hitters, who are having problems making consistent contact against him. Honeywell has a .226 batting average against opposing lineups, as his four-seam fastball and wipeout changeup have been hard to touch. It is safe to say both pitchers will have pivotal sixth and seventh-inning roles in bridging the gap to Martinez and Hader.

Martinez has become an indispensable component of the Padres bullpen. However, he has received little to no media attention for his ability to hold down leads before handing the ball to Hader. If his success continues, the Padres are in good shape to reverse their fortunes.