CEDAR RAPIDS — When you are in your sixth season of professional baseball, your second in the Midwest League, and carry around an earned run average that’s close to a snowman, that’s not good.
That was Jose Martinez’s status in mid-May. The Cedar Rapids Kernels relief pitcher wasn’t throwing strikes, wasn’t getting guys out.
His ERA was a bloated 7.71. That’s approaching getting-released territory.
But the right-hander has turned everything around on the proverbial dime. He threw three shutout innings Wednesday afternoon and got the win as the Kernels beat Wisconsin, 4-3.
That’s seven consecutive outings throwing zeroes for the 22-year-old Venezuelan. In those 16 1/3 innings, he has given up just six hits.
“I’m staying focused in my work, no matter what,” Martinez said, through translating teammate Moises Gomez. “It’s just attacking, attacking the zone. No matter if I give up a hit or something like that, I just attack, attack and see what happens.”
That unsightly ERA is down to 3.56, cut in more than half about four weeks.
“There actually was a breaking ball change with him. He was throwing a slider that didn’t have much depth, so we worked on getting some depth with his slider,” said Kernels pitching coach Virgil Vasquez. “But, also, he wasn’t really jumping ahead (in counts). His mentality ... he wasn’t entering the game like ‘Let’s go. Here I am.’ Trusting his ability. He is just really working hard on getting in the zone. Coming after them from the first pitch.”
Andrew Bechtold hit an opposite-field solo home run to right in the sixth inning for the go-ahead run that made Martinez and the Kernels (36-30) winners. Gomez picked up his country mate by relieving him with two on and one out in the eighth and getting out of that jam.
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He pitched around a one-out single in the ninth to post his second save. Gomez also has turned things around after a rocky beginning following a reassignment here from high-Class A Fort Myers in early May.
“I like closing,” Gomez said. “So when I come in late in the game, I feel the adrenaline. That helps me a lot.”
The Kernels remained a game behind Burlington for second place in the Midwest League’s Western Division and the second of two playoff berths available in the first half. There are four games to go, another at home against Wisconsin at 6:35 Thursday night.
Former Kirkwood Community College player Korry Howell had a two-run double in this game for Wisconsin. A shortstop at Kirkwood, he has played center field in the first two games of this series.
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