TRENTON, NJ- Phillies minor league pitcher Ethan Martin has dealt with shoulder issues in recent seasons that have kept him sidelined at times, but lack of firm details on the ailment have left the hurler’s future full of mystery and doubt.
Once a promising righty pitching prospect that came in return from Los Angeles in the 2012 Shane Victorino trade, Martin was armed with a mid-90’s fastball (clocked as high as 97 MPH) as well as strong off-speed pitches. Lately, he struggles to produce a fastball that gets above 90 MPH, which leaves minimal variance with velocity compared to his secondary offerings.
Over the past two seasons, Martin, who was the 15th overall draft selection by the Dodgers in 2008, appeared in 17 games with the big league Phillies, tallying a 2-5 record with a 5.93 ERA, but with the dip in velocity, he hasn’t been able to climb back to the upper levels and produce.
“I’ve dealt with failure in my career. I’ve dealt with adversity. You know, this is just, you look at it and you’re like, ‘What’s going on? I had it two years ago!’ Especially last year. I came into spring training and it disappears. So, it’s frustrating,” Martin said, expressing his bewilderment while sitting in the visitor’s dugout at Trenton’s Arm & Hammer Park this week.
Following another stint on the disabled list, this time for a minor ankle sprain, Martin was activated by the Double-A Reading Fightins on Thursday. The 26-year-old said that the Phillies organization has done the necessary research to uncover the core of the issue without success.
“I’ve had MRI’s and everything like that and nobody can- there’s not structural damage in it, so I mean it’s just one of those freak things and nobody knows what’s going on, in a way,” Martin said.
With Reading this season, Martin sports a 1-0 record with a 5.33 ERA while having struck out 10 and walked six in 25 1/3 innings.
When he’s been placed on the shelf in previous instances, the Phillies have declared it’s due to shoulder inflammation. However, the pitcher himself asserts there’s been a complete absence of discomfort.
“No pain at all,” Martin shared with a puzzled expression. “(My old velocity) just doesn’t come out. I try to throw as hard as I can and it just doesn’t want to come out. It’s weird.”
The six-foot-two 225-pounder has worked with Phillies mental coach Dr. Jack Curtis on dealing with the psychological side of the game, but without the ability to fire it up on the radar gun, Martin’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be what it once was, as indicated by Reading manager Dusty Wathan‘s recent comment that Martin is “just one of the guys in the bullpen”.
Finding a silver lining in the changes he’s faced with, the Georgia native feels he’s been able to improve himself as a pitcher.
“Through this I’ve learned to pitch a little more and I’ve learned to mix up my pitches, keep the hitter off balance, where before I’d throw 94, 95, 96, sometimes 97 and I’d rely on that too much and my other pitches weren’t as refined as they should be. Through this, I think it’s kind of helped in that aspect, so if (the velocity) ever does come back I feel like I’d be ahead of where I was two years ago,” Martin said.
For Martin, his team and those that know and love him, fingers will remain crossed, hoping that the zip does return to his fastball. Until that time, he remains appreciate of all that he still has and can continue to do.
“Right now I just appreciate that I still have a job playing the sport that I love and I just gotta go with that.”