The members of the pitching rotation for Class A Kannapolis may be young, but they have shown flashes of brilliance this season. On Monday, it came in the form of Luis Martinez.
The No. 21 White Sox prospect allowed two hits and a walk while fanning four over eight innings as the Intimidators edged the Lakewood BlueClaws, 1-0, at FirstEnergy Park for their South Atlantic League-leading 13th shutout.
"He was really aggressive more today with the inside part of the plate with the fastball," Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista said of the 20-year-old. "He used more of his changeup and slider a little more over the plate. He was really active going to the inside part of the plate."
While the fastball -- which runs in the low 90's and can occasionally get up to 95 mph -- has traditionally been the best pitch for Martinez (4-9), the right-hander has worked extensively on his secondary offerings this season. His slider has been occasionally described as inconsistent and his changeup was his lowest-rated pitch, with a grade of 40 on MLBPipeline's 20-80 scale. He was able to use both offerings effectively Monday.
"As the season progresses, he's been more consistent, especially with the changeup," said Bautista. "When I started working with him this year, he did not have it all. He just had his slider and fastball and a little bit of a sinker. The changeup wasn't really good, but he's coming along with it and he's using it more. Today, he had a chance to throw it 21 times and he used it in proper times."
The 2011 free-agent signee limited his walks to just one. Free passes had hurt him during difficult months in May and June, when his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 21-to-26 in nine starts.
"We've been working on the side a lot and directing him on keeping his arm a little more up, because sometimes he would kind of drop it out and it would work side to side," said Bautista. "But lately, we've been working on staying on the ball, driving the ball down to the plate."
The adjustment has paid off, improving Martinez's K-to-BB ratio to 7-to-20 through five July starts. He has succeeded in keeping the ball down as well, as his infielders handled 13 groundouts Monday.
The Venezuela native finished off his strongest month of the season with the outing. In 29 2/3 innings, he has a 1.52 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .173 average in July.
"Everyone's been picking up what we've been working on, and him especially," said Bautista. "He's been a lot better. The other day he threw six innings and gave up about three runs … but I think he's starting to get it, what we're trying to work on. He's just picked it up pretty well."
Although he signed in 2011, the 6-foot-6 hurler did not see the field until June 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He looks to be putting the ailment permanently behind him.
"What I think about him, sometimes, from being hurt, he's just a little bit scared to let it go," said Bautista. "But right now, he's just more comfortable after he had the Tommy John. He's just got more comfortable with throwing the ball. Right now, he's just doing it and he's throwing the ball down really well."
Martinez has been a perfect fit in the youthful Kannapolis rotation, which also features third-ranked Chicago prospect Spencer Adams (19 years old) and No. 14 Thad Lowry (20). The trio could paint a bright picture of the future in Chicago.
"I was talking today about that today because it's so young, everyone is 20 years old over here," Bautista said. "I mean, it's just something."
Blue Claws starter Tyler Viza (4-6) found himself on the losing end of the pitchers' duel, despite throwing his first career complete game. The righty allowed a run on six hits and fanned six over nine innings.
Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com.