Getting to know Rafael Martin

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Right-hander Rafael Martin made his Major League debut on Wednesday in impressive fashion: striking out five consecutive Red Sox batters in two scoreless innings of work. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Martin became the first reliever to strikeout five consecutive batters in his debut since Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Pete Richert did it on April 12, 1962. He is also the first Nationals pitcher (starter or reliever) to strikeout at least five straight batters in his MLB debut since Stephen Strasburg struck out seven straight on June 8, 2010.

Interview by Charlie Slowes

What was going through your mind during your big league debut?

It was an adrenaline rush — it felt good to get out there finally. It’s been a long wait to make my debut, something that I will never forget. The five strikeouts, it just happens. I didn’t really plan on striking everybody out, I was just throwing fastballs trying to have them put them in play and things worked out.

Did the Red Sox have trouble seeing your sinker ball?

Escobar told me, “Hey the shadows are bad, just throw it, let it go.” So I just kept pounding fastballs, not trying to cheat anybody, see what happens. He was saying, “I can’t see the ball, so I don’t think they can either,” so I just kept pounding the zone.

How did it feel to debut in such a historic ballpark like Fenway Park?

Debut, Jackie Robinson Day, the (somber anniversary) of (the Boston Marathon bombings), it was really neat, something l will never forget.

You’ve taken a unique path to the big leagues. How did it all happen?

Out of high school, I didn’t even play varsity until my senior year. (I was) definitely a late bloomer. Out of high school, I worked construction for five years, and then I played a game in Tecate, Mexico and a scout saw me and invited me for a tryout. I went out there, tried out, they (the Mexican League team) signed me, three years later the Nationals bought my contract, and five years later I get to make my debut. So it was definitely a long story — not your typical story — but I’m finally here and it’s awesome.

Did you play any kind of baseball during those years you were working construction?

I was playing Sunday ball, like rec leagues. All of my buddies from high school are guys that I played with. I played a lot of softball during the week too, two to three times a week, slow pitch softball. It was fun, I was enjoying it and making good money working construction.

Was it difficult to battle injuries through your first few years?  

In 2010, my first year here, I did really well. In 2011, I had some issues coming off of my first real offseason because I played year round in Mexico. I came back to Spring Training, had little issues getting back on track. In 2012 I got the big league (training camp) invite and just kind of struggled out of the gate. I went to Syracuse, cold weather, had some issues, shoulder problems, surgeries in 2012 and 2013 and last year I was finally healthy. It paid dividends, and all my hard work paid off.

Did Spring Training help prepare you for your debut?

Finally, after three years it was the first Spring Training where I could come in healthy and ready to give it all I’ve got and fight for a job. It was a very short chance but I had to open some eyes and show them what I could do.

What was the day like when you finally got called up this year?

It was a save situation. I was the closer there and I didn’t come in. He had Evan Meek pitch, and I was kind of weirded out by it…I was like, “Why was I not closing this game?” I didn’t think much of it, after the game I just gave high fives to the guys in the clubhouse, and the pitching coach, Bob Milacki called me, he was like, “Come here,” into the office and (Syracuse Manager) Billy Gardner just said. “Hey, you’re going to Boston.” I kind of looked around at everybody like, “Are you guys joking, what’s going on?” It was kind of unique. I was really surprised by it.

How was the trip to Boston?

I left at 6 a.m. from Lehigh (Pa.), layover in Philly, and got into Boston around 10 a.m. I waited around the hotel (until they made the move official) and then I got the call that I could go to the ballpark. I was kind of like, “All right let’s do this.” It was fun.

How did your family react to you moving up to the big leagues?

(My wife) had to drive from Scranton to Lehigh Sunday night, Tuesday morning drive to Lehigh to Boston and after the game Boston to here (D.C.), I kind of felt bad for her but it’s adrenaline for her too. Hopefully (the rest of my family) makes it out Tuesday for the game, and they can enjoy this with me too. My dad is one of those guys who doesn’t break easily, and I got him to tear up so it made me proud too.

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