Chris Martin might be Braves’ most valuable reliever

Credit: Atlanta Braves

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Braves reliever Chris Martin discusses his approach to preparing for season and the feel of the new MLB ball.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Chris Martin has been an instrumental part of the Braves’ bullpen since August 2019. His importance will only increase in 2021 after the team bid farewell to three veteran relievers over the winter.

Martin, 34, is in his second spring training with the Braves. He hasn’t appeared in a game yet, instead preparing behind the scenes. He pitched a simulated inning Tuesday morning on the back fields at the team’s Florida facility.

“A guy like that, he’s going to be a one-inning guy, so you can just monitor things with him (throwing simulated innings),” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s not a tough one to put on the back fields and see. But he’ll have plenty enough appearances by the time this thing’s over.”

Martin added: “It’s just about getting repetitions. I think I can tell myself when I need to amp it up. I’ve been throwing well in the back fields, simulated games. I’ll be getting in games here soon. I’m not worried about it. I know what I need to do to get ready.”

One can’t understate how important Martin is to the bullpen. In fact, there’s an argument that acquiring Martin is the best trade of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ Braves tenure. The Braves acquired him from Texas at the 2019 trade deadline for just lefty Kolby Allard, who had no clear path to a future with the organization.

Martin has a 2.52 ERA in 39 games for the Braves, who won the National League East in both his seasons with the club. A mind-blowing stat: Martin has struck out 42 and walked only four (one intentional) in that span (35-2/3 innings). Since the beginning of the 2018 season, when Martin returned to MLB following a stint in Japan, he’s struck out 122 hitters and issued just 13 walks across 115-1/3 innings.

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(From left) Braves catcher Travis D’Arnaud, pitcher Chris Martin and Johan Camargo celebrate closing out the New York Mets for an 11-10 victory Friday, July 31, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

(From left) Braves catcher Travis D’Arnaud, pitcher Chris Martin and Johan Camargo celebrate closing out the New York Mets for an 11-10 victory Friday, July 31, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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(From left) Braves catcher Travis D’Arnaud, pitcher Chris Martin and Johan Camargo celebrate closing out the New York Mets for an 11-10 victory Friday, July 31, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

That production makes Martin one of the more underrated relievers in baseball over the past few seasons. At a position that’s often erratic, Martin has consistently demonstrated impeccable command.

His strike-throwing prowess was sorely needed in the Braves’ bullpen. Just two seasons ago, the group was plagued by walks. The bullpen was considered a weak, if not the weakest, spot on the roster. Now, it’s one of the strong ensembles on the team. The unit features a healthy mix of up-and-comers and high-character veterans, which has made for excellent chemistry.

It’s a strong-looking group despite losing Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Darren O’Day in free agency. The team has expressed confidence in its in-house replacements, and Martin feels similarly.

“Losing those three guys, those are three great arms,” Martin said. “But we have really good young arms to back them up. I’m not worried about it. I think everybody here has the same mindset. Just go out and do our jobs and try to follow suit.”

Martin’s responsibility increases with that trio gone. It’s likely he’ll be the team’s primary set-up man to lefty Will Smith, who probably will get the bulk of closer duties. Martin could also get his share of ninth-inning work if the situation calls for it, though he isn’t concerned with when he pitches.

The rest of the bullpen concurs with that sentiment. The Braves will mix and match their relievers, so they don’t really assign roles. Martin, Smith, A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek are each formidable late-inning options.

“Your job is to go out there and keep the game where it is, no matter what the score is,” Martin said. “If we’re down by five or up by five, you want to keep the game where it is. That’s your job as a relief pitcher. Or minimize damage if you’re in a situation you don’t want to be in. That’s our job.”

The Braves’ bullpen should again be a solid group. Expect Martin, in the second season of a two-year deal, to play an even bigger role as one of the more experienced pitchers of the bunch.

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