Rangers' Nick Martinez looks right at home in the Bronx

Nick Martinez of the Texas Rangers pitches in

Nick Martinez of the Texas Rangers pitches in the first inning against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Nick Martinez was accustomed to it, taking the mound before a rapt crowd in the Bronx. The Rangers starter had done that a few times in the past.

Uhh, tiny difference here: That field was about four miles north of Yankee Stadium, at Fordham University. And he hadn't even pitched that often there. The converted infielder made more appearances in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium than he did pitching for the Rams.

But there he was Tuesday night, a rookie righthander fresh off the disabled list, making his first start in the borough that was for three years his second home.

Martinez, 23, is from Miami, but "while at Fordham, I slowly started rooting for the Yankees."

After all, Martinez and his college buddies spent many Friday nights at the Stadium, sitting in the cheapest seats available.

But Martinez's journey back here -- to the mound -- required much more than a MetroCard. The MTA, of course, doesn't service minor-league stops in Spokane and Myrtle Beach. Or help with pitching.

Though the Yankees won, 2-1, in 14 innings, Martinez didn't disappoint his 45 friends and relatives in attendance. In his first start since July 1, he gave up three hits and struck out three in 51/3 scoreless innings. After two first-inning singles, he didn't allow a batter to reach until the fifth.

"We didn't get the win, but it's still always a blast when I come back to New York," said Martinez, adding that he visits the Fordham campus every offseason. "From being a fan to being able to pitch in this place, it was a special moment."

Martinez, who had been on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique, was relieved after 67 pitches and a walk to Brett Gardner.

Rangers manager Ron Washington said Martinez "pitches his [butt] off" with his folks in the stands. Perhaps there's something to that. Martinez entered 1-6 with a 5.10 ERA but had his best performance in almost a month.

Martinez played three years at Fordham, where he was primarily an infielder and batted .295. He pitched in only 15 games, for a total of 261/3 innings. But the Rangers, enthralled by his smooth mechanics and athleticism, drafted him in the 18th round in 2011 and immediately transformed him into a full-time pitcher. "They saw me at the right time and took a chance," Martinez said.

His fastball sat between 91-93 mph and the changeup and slider teammates raved about were on display Tuesday night.

"He's a confident guy and he's very grown up," Rangers reliever Neal Cotts said of Martinez. "Nerves don't affect someone like him."

It didn't on Fordham Road. And it didn't a few subway stops down on 161st Street.

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