Seth Martinez was in trouble.
Arizona State's starting pitcher had issued three consecutive base hits to start the third inning of Friday night's contest against Eastern Michigan, a game that was already tied 1-1 heading into the frame. For someone who had experienced nothing but success in his first two outings of the 2016 season, the first sign of distress became a test of sorts for the junior right-hander.
He ended up passing with flying colors.
Martinez worked his way out of the jam without letting a run cross the plate, using back-to-back strikeouts and a weak popup to retire the side. He then put down the next eight batters that stepped up to the plate, eventually exiting the game with an 8-1 lead after six innings of work.
"That was a huge momentum swing," said ASU coach Tracy Smith after the game. "You're sitting there with a tight ballgame and he went out there and made the pitches he was supposed to. We really turned it on after that."
Heading into the season, this role wasn't even supposed to belong to Martinez. Junior Hever Bueno was named the team's Friday starter back in early February, but he has not seen any action since leaving the first game of the year with a muscle strain. Martinez slid into Bueno's "ace" position nicely last week, going six innings without allowing a run in the team's only win at Long Beach State.
"I think it has gone well," Martinez said when talking about moving to the Friday spot. "I don't feel like there is much of a difference. Friday is all about setting the tone for the weekend, but it hasn't been that big of a change."
With a middle-tier MAC opponent in town this week, most expected the junior to cruise through the Eagles lineup on Friday. After all, Martinez did enter the contest with a 2-0 record to go along with a spotless 0.00 ERA.
Instead, the Sun Devil starter struggled to locate his two best pitches — missing high against a team that was coming to the dish with a swing first, ask questions later mindset. He was hit hard for two singles in the top of the first but managed to escape without any runs coming in thanks to a caught stealing at third.
After a 20 minute bottom half of the first, Martinez returned to the mound a bit cold and did not have as much luck. Eastern Michigan sent six batters to the plate in the inning and got one run across, tying the game at 1-1.
"It didn't effect me too much," said Martinez about the long wait between innings. "My fastball was kind of up in the zone and the slider was kind of flat, so I think it was just a mechanical issue."
Those issues continued in the third, as the visiting club quickly loaded the bases with three straight singles off Martinez. That's when Smith decided to pay his pitcher a visit on the mound.
"He (Smith) looked at me and said, ‘These are some big outs right here,’ and in that situation it was just about focus," Martinez said.
The righty focused in big time, reaching back for a pair of strikeouts and a foul out off first to get out of the jam and preserve the tie ballgame.
"Great coaching," deadpanned Smith when asked about his pitcher's escape.
Martinez's Houdini act sparked an offensive explosion for Arizona State, which tallied 11 more runs before the night was over. The pitcher sailed through his final three innings without allowing as much as a baserunner, handing the ball over to his bullpen for the final three frames.
While Friday's outing wasn't as smooth as his first two in 2016, Martinez proved that he has the stuff - both physically and mentally - to work his way out of any problems that may arise while he is on the mound.
Martinez is now 3-0 on the young season with a 0.47 ERA, and he might just hold onto that Friday job for the remainder of the season if he is able to keep up this kind of production.