Martin Impressive On Comeback Trail

J.D. Martin

J.D. Martin was well aware of the long hours of rehab that would be necessary when he agreed to have Tommy John surgery last summer. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound curveball specialist also realized that it wasn't a matter of if, but rather when, he would eventually need a ligament transplant.

"It was totally my decision to have the surgery," said Martin, a sandwich pick (35th overall choice) of the Indians in 2001. "I knew if I postponed it, I was just delaying the inevitable. Why hurt myself any more?"

Martin had twice been shut down with elbow problems, first in 2003 while pitching at Class A Kinston, then again early in the 2005 season while at Class AA Akron. When the pain continued after his early-season stint on the DL with the Aeros, Martin knew it was time to face the knife.

Twelve months later, he is now back on the mound and pitching for short-season Mahoning Valley.

In his first appearance, he efficiently worked three innings while using just 35 of his allotted 55 pitches.

"He finished up by throwing the final 20 pitches in the bullpen," Scrappers pitching coach Ken Rowe said. "He threw the ball very well. He struck out two guys on curve balls that they simply couldn't hit."

For Martin, the thrill didn't come from the fact he fanned two low-level minor-leaguers or that he gave up just two hits and a run. Rather the thrill for Martin came in the fact he was back "home" again on the mound.

"It feels great to be pitching again," he said. "The length of time (a year) of the rehab was the most difficult part."

Even though Martin has been throwing with quite a bit of velocity for many months, he knew the game plan was for him to stay in extended spring training, join Mahoning Valley when their season started on June 19, and take about three weeks to get his pitch count up to about 85.

Once he has reached that number, he'll likely head back to Akron, although that is subject to change depending upon roster availability. There is also the option for him to pitch at Kinston or Lake County.

"His endurance is getting better every day," Rowe said. "And he's using all of his pitches." Martin made more progress in his second outing with the Scrappers on Monday night, allowing only one hit and striking out three over three more scoreless innings. About the only thing he did wrong was make a wild throw for an error on a pickoff attempt.

Both Rowe and Martin say there is absolutely no concern when J.D. snaps off one of the patented curveballs that has helped make him one of the Tribe's top pitching prospects prior to his surgery.

"His elbow is probably stronger now than it ever was," Rowe said.

Martin admitted, "I was a little timid a month or so ago, but now I'm not at all worried."

Rowe says Martin has the "intangibles" that will undoubtedly help him reach his full potential. "J.D. is a great athlete," said the veteran minor league pitching coach. "He has great makeup.

"He's a great competitor, the same way his brother (Kevin) was. I always pulled for that kid (Kevin) as much as anybody. Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn't happen."

Kevin signed as a free agent pitcher with the Indians the same time his brother signed as a draft pick. While Kevin put up some excellent numbers all the way up to Class A Lake County, the Indians felt his "stuff" didn't translate well on the higher levels and released him a couple of years ago.

J.D., meanwhile, has put up impressive numbers at every stop on his minor league career. He began by going 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA at Burlington in 2001. He then went 14-5 with a 3.90 ERA at Columbus in 2002 and was 5-3 with a 4.27 ERA at Kinston in '03 before having his season shut down due to his first sore elbow.

After a delayed start, he returned to Kinston in 2004 and was 11-10 with a 4.39 ERA. He made 10 starts at Akron last year, going 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA. In 56 2/3 innings, he struck out 63 despite near-constant pain in his elbow.

The strikeout total at Class AA shows J.D.'s "stuff" should translate well to Triple-A and the majors. Combine that with his strong mental approach and he has the potential to become a very good major league pitcher in the not-too-distant future.

"J.D. knows where he wants to go and nothing is going to hold him back," Rowe said. "He has direction. He has great work habits. He has gotten bigger and stronger and now he is starting to fill out. He's a man now."

He's a man who needs about another half year of "going full bore" at Akron before he'll be ready to challenge for a major league job, a challenge that will be made without a sore elbow.

If Akron is his next stop, Martin will likely join two of the other "Big Four" high school pitchers selected early in the 2001 draft.

No. 1 pick Daniel Denham, after beginning the 2006 season at Buffalo, is now back at Class AA Akron where he is pitching well in the Aeros' rotation. Fourth-round choice Travis Foley is pitching well out of the Aeros' bullpen.

Jake Dittler, picked in the second round in 2001, is at Buffalo, where he is 2-9 with a 4.76 ERA but has been pitching much better as of late.

Jason Denham, an outfielder and Dan's younger brother who was the Tribe's 14th-round draft choice in 2004, has split this season between Mahoning Valley and Lake County and is doing "great" according to Scrappers manager Rouglas Odor.

"I really like the way he plays," said Odor. "He finally understands what it takes to be a professional baseball player. His first two years he didn't really look like he knew what he wanted to do. You have to remember he was only 17 when he was drafted.

"But I saw him throughout extended spring training and now to start the season and I see a lot of tools that will one day allow him to play in the big leagues. For Jason, it's just a matter of playing and getting experience."

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