Dodgers’ closer du jour: Ohtani’s ex-teammate, Chris Martin

Less than half an hour had passed since the final and the Dodgers clubhouse staff had retrieved the cue ball, placed it in a square plastic sleeve, attached a tag to the foundation supporting the sleeve, and stowed the ball safely in the pitcher’s locker .

“1ST CAREER POSTSEASON SAVE,” read the label.

The proud owner of the ball is 36 years old, two years older than Craig Kimbrel, who is seventh on the all-time savelist. On Tuesday morning, the Dodgers finalized their roster for the National League Division Series sans Kimbrel. On Tuesday night, the Dodgers’ closer was Chris Martin.

At the close of trading, the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres each acquired a reliever. Amid much fanfare, the Padres got Josh Hader, a four-time All-Star. The Dodgers have the relatively anonymous Martin, a former teammate of Shohei Ohtani in Japan, a champion last year with the Atlanta Braves, a holder of nine major league saves.

Martin made the save on Tuesday in the Dodgers’ 5-3 win over the Padres. This wasn’t the role the Dodgers envisioned for him when they acted for him.

“No, not necessarily that,” said Andrew Friedman, president of the Dodgers’ baseball division. “But I thought there was a very real way he could put up very meaningful innings for us. At that point I never really thought about the ninth, but he has fitted into our group very well and is thriving.”

Friedman said he was trying to get Martin at the 2019 close for the same reasons he got him this year: Martin can pull out right-handed and left-handed shooters, and he’s what makes Friedman “an elite strike pitcher.” called. With the Dodgers, he’s faced 96 hitters and walked one.

If the Dodgers field a closer Wednesday, Martin might not be the one. If Juan Soto is due, left-hander Alex Vesia could get the call. If the Dodgers hadn’t fielded Evan Phillips in the sixth inning, he might have gotten the ninth. The Dodgers could eventually unwrap Blake Treinen.

In Kimbrel’s absence, the Dodgers are all about the matchups and analysis. It’s an old-school bullpen: Your role is to pitch when asked, not define yourself as an eighth-inning guy or whatever. Martin said Josh Bard, the Dodgers’ bullpen coach, helps each assister find the most likely spots for them in each game.

Still, Martin conceded, the ninth inning was special. Different innings feel different, he said.

“I would be lying if I said they didn’t,” he said.

Roster security also feels different. Drafted twice but didn’t sign, Martin then injured his shoulder, worked at Lowe’s and UPS, and eventually ended up with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs in Texas. He signed his first contract with a major league organization at 24 and made his major league debut at 27.

That was in 2014. By the end of the 2015 season, he had served for the Colorado Rockies and the New York Yankees with a combined earned run average of 6.19.

Japan called. He answered.

“It’s a bad thing, but obviously financial security plays a big part,” he said. “I didn’t have a signing bonus or anything like that. I was a bit older and understood the situation I was in.”

He played two full seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, with a 1.07 ERA the first year and a 1.16 ERA the next. Financial security offered him a window of opportunity to develop well enough to return to the big leagues and thrive. Ohtani taught him a grip for his split finger switch.

In 2016, Ohtani hit .322 with 22 homers and posted a 1.86 ERA. Ohtani was 21. Martin got a front row seat for the Ohtani Sho.

“It was a lot of fun watching him every day,” said Martin.

“Over there we fly on regular scheduled flights. We had to protect him, push people aside. There were fans at airports, in train stations. it was crazy He just put his head down and did his thing.”

Here’s hoping Ohtani gets a ball for his first postseason win or home run or postseason something one of these years. In the late hours of Tuesday night, Martin had a ball for his first postseason parade.

“It’ll probably end up in the garage,” he said.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-10-12/dodgers-closer-du-jour-ohtanis-former-teammate Dodgers’ closer du jour: Ohtani’s ex-teammate, Chris Martin

Emma Bowman

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