Members of the training staff of the Los Angeles Dodgers have been fiddling with a contraption they call the "velocity potentio-meter." It calculates a pitcher's leverage, measuring the distance from his fingertips to his shoulder, and then from his shoulder to his thigh. The longer his levers, the thinking goes, the greater his ability to throw hard. "We haven't got it all worked out yet," says assistant trainer Charlie Strasser. "But Ramon does very well."
Ramon is Ramon Martinez, a 22-year-old righthander from the Dominican Republic and a living lever system. He is 6'4" and 175 pounds, all of it limbs and spidery long fingers. This season, his digits have dialed up numbers that register high on the potentio-meter for the National League Cy Young Award. After beating the Reds 10-3 for his sixth straight victory last Thursday, Martinez was 15-4 with a 2.79 ERA and a league-leading 174 strikeouts.
Martinez delivers his pitches from a kaleidoscopic jumble of angles. Often the ball seems to catapult suddenly off his elbow and then appear out of his jersey, which makes him very tough in the home whites; he is 9-1 at Dodger Stadium. "There's no way we'd teach that delivery," says Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski. "Ramon has made the best of his awkwardness."
Martinez's career path has taken some awkward turns too. When he was discovered in Santo Domingo in 1984 by Dodger scout Ralph Avila, he was a curveball specialist. He was also 6'1" and weighed only 130 pounds. "We called him Crutches," says Avila. "Spaghetti, too." Martinez signed with Los Angeles that year and quickly learned the changeup from minor league pitching instructor Johnny Podres. But his fastball remained ordinary. So in the winter of '86, the Dodgers gave Martinez orders to rest. And eat. The team gave him unlimited credit at a Dominican cafeteria until he beefed up-well, milk-shaked up—to 150 pounds. That extra heft helped his heater, which began blazing at more than 90 mph.
August 19, 1990
As Martinez grew bigger and stronger, however, he lost the curveball that his father, Paulino Jaime, a school janitor, had taught him as a boy. Ramon's trouble with the curve kept him in the minors most of the past two years. Through hard work he has found the pitch again, but most of the time he relies on his fastball and changeup. The fastball was especially effective on June 4, when he fanned 18 Atlanta Braves, tying Sandy Koufax for the Dodger record. "I cannot say I am a strikeout pitcher yet," says Martinez. "But if I want to strike anybody out, I feel I got a pretty good chance."
Martinez keeps his weight up by eating a lot of carbohydrates, despite the ever-present pitchers of you-know-which diet shake in the Dodger clubhouse ("That stuff is for fat people," he says), and he has maintained his serene disposition as well. "Ramon has a gift, and he recognizes it," says Dodger general manager Fred Claire. "He treasures it." And he shares it. As he walks off the field after throwing a complete game, Martinez will usually flip the game ball to a young fan in the stands.
He did, however, pocket the ball after his 18-K gem. "I just want to keep the ones with the records," Martinez says. With his talent and at his age, the potentio-meter reading on those is high indeed.