ARLINGTON, Texas — For Chris Martin, the series against the Rangers represents a homecoming.
He grew up 10 minutes from Globe Life Field and went to nearby Arlington High School. His father worked in walking distance of where the Rangers play.
That fact alone makes a visit to play the Rangers an opportunity to reflect on an unlikely and circuitous career path — one that saw Martin quit baseball in college because of a shoulder injury, eventually return to the game in semi-pro and then independent ball, grind through the minors for three years before a couple cups of coffee in 2014 and 2015, then go to Japan from 2016-17.
Yet Texas also represented not only Martin’s baseball beginnings but also the start of the his second career. After two years with Nippon Ham, he returned to the States by signing a two-year deal with the Rangers for 2018-19.
“Obviously, being as far away from home as I was for two years, I would have definitely taken less money to go to be home,” Martin recalled before the Red Sox’ 6-4 loss Tuesday night. “I remember I was at a Christmas party and I got the call [finalizing a deal with the Rangers]. Pretty good Christmas present.”
Martin was 31 with 40 MLB appearances on his résumé when he signed that deal. Did he imagine then that over the next six years, he’d pitch in 283 more big league games, forging a 2.99 ERA, winning a World Series ring, and going on the best run of his career — 19 straight scoreless appearances and counting entering Tuesday, dropping his ERA to 1.07 (third lowest in Sox history) — at 37 years old?
“No, I did not,” acknowledged Martin. “I’ve had the mentality that every year is a bonus from here on out. I get the question, ‘When do you feel like you’re going to hang ‘em up?’ Every year is a bonus for me. I definitely didn’t expect this type of career.”
Meanwhile, for all that has gone wrong for the Red Sox this year, Martin — signed to a two-year, $17.5 million deal last November — has exceeded any reasonable expectations the team might have had. The team knew it wanted to add him as a strike thrower (75 percent strike rate, far and away the highest in the big leagues) but could not have imagined how consistently he’d carve the zone with a five-pitch mix out of the bullpen.
“There are guys that throw strikes. There are people that throw quality strikes. That’s what he does, everywhere. He can go in against righties, in against lefties, up, down, chases. He’s been great in the clubhouse, too,” said manager Alex Cora. “He’s been able to post, which is the most important thing. … [After 2021], we were in conversations in the offseason. It didn’t happen. He went to the Cubs, and then he ended up with the Dodgers. But he was kind of priority number one for us [last offseason]. We needed this guy. He’s here, he’s been great, and looking forward to the rest of the season and next year, too.”
Lefthander Shane Drohan, who emerged this year as one of the top Red Sox pitching prospects, was placed on Triple A Worcester’s development list, meaning he won’t make another appearance this season. The 24-year-old finished the year with 123 innings between Double A and the WooSox, dominating in Portland (1.32 ERA in five starts) while struggling to a 6.89 ERA in Triple A.
Still, he showed improvements in his arsenal and a diverse mix that has positioned him as a potential contributor to the Sox staff at some point in 2024 and beyond.
“I would say [2023 was a season] of growth, development, understanding who he needs to be as a pitcher probably at the upper levels but to eventually make an impact in the big leagues,” said farm director Brian Abraham. “Ultimately, [it was a year of] understanding that there’s another gear, another step that’s needed to be major league depth and be able to do that for an extended period of time.”
One of the biggest challenges for Drohan will be continuing to add weight and strength to sustain top-level performance. Last winter, he ate two steaks a day to go from 175 pounds to roughly 191.
“I know he ate a lot of steak last offseason,” said Abraham. “We’ll have to increase the ounces.”
First baseman Triston Casas — who is on the injured list and won’t play again this year — has been diagnosed with bursitis in his right shoulder. Cora said the team will develop a treatment plan in the coming days, but that Casas wasn’t expected to need surgery. … Outfielder Wilyer Abreu (left arm) was out of the lineup for a second straight day, but is expected to play either Wednesday or when the team returns to Boston on Friday. … Pitcher Kenley Jansen, who was expected to rejoin the Sox from the COVID-19 injured list in Texas, has yet to be cleared and won’t be activated before the weekend … Righthander Kaleb Ort gave up a hit and a walk while striking out one in ⅓ of an inning, and lefty Joely Rodriguez went ⅔ of an inning, allowing a run on two hits, in Worcester’s 4-3 loss at Lehigh Valley ... The WooSox announced that they drew 519,651 fans to Polar Park this year, which is expected to rank as the sixth-highest attendance total and average in the minors. The team sold 545,231 tickets, which is expected to be the most in Minor League Baseball … High A Greenville beat Hudson Valley, 7-3, in Game 2 to sweep the best-of-three South Atlantic League championship series.