When Nick Martinez closed his eyes and pictured himself playing in the big leagues as a little kid, he always envisioned himself playing shortstop or second base for the Marlins.
“Never as a pitcher,” said Martinez, 24, who grew up playing shortstop at Perrine Khoury League and spent one season playing alongside Darrius Dawson, the son of Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.
“My whole life I played middle infield. I was a shortstop at Belen [High], and then I played second base at Fordham [University in New York].”
The Texas Rangers apparently knew best. They drafted Martinez in the 18th round of the 2011 draft and turned him into a pitcher.
On Wednesday afternoon, the kid who grew up dreaming of becoming the next Luis Castillo or Alex Gonzalez will make his 17th career big-league start against the team he grew up rooting for when the Marlins and Rangers close out their quick two-game set at Marlins Park.
Martinez (2-9, 5.27 ERA) bought tickets for 70 family members and friends to come out and watch his big-league debut in Tampa on April 5. He did something smarter on his second trip home. He made all of his family members and friends buy their own tickets.
“This time I was able to save some cash,” Martinez said with a chuckle. “I honestly have no idea how many people are going to be here. But probably quite a bit.”
Martinez was hardly a superstar in high school. In fact, he didn’t even earn All-County honorable mention at Belen.
In three seasons at Fordham, he was a career .295 hitter with 22 stolen bases and 109 runs scored. He pitched some out of the bullpen, appearing in 15 games and posting three saves and 22 strikeouts in only 26 1/3 innings pitched.
He turned out to be a much better pitcher for the Rangers in the minors, going 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA in 2013 between Single A and Double A. Martinez even played on the same minor-league All-Star team with injured Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in 2012.
Dawson was stunned when he learned Tuesday that Martinez was the same little kid he helped coach in 1997.
“He was a pretty good shortstop; you could see the potential and that he had been well-coached,” Dawson said. “Like my grandmother always used to tell me, if you can play the game, somewhere along the line someone will take notice.”
Marlins left-handed reliever Dan Jennings made his first rehab appearance Monday night since being struck by a line drive in the head two weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
Jennings tossed one scoreless inning with a walk and a strikeout in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
“Everything went well,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “He threw 19 pitches. The plan now is for him to throw a couple more innings in his next outing.”• Second baseman Derek Dietrich, who hasn’t played for the Marlins since July 2, started his rehab assignment Sunday at Single A Jupiter.
• Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Tuesday afternoon, raising $4,551.
Andrew Mendez, 28, made the winning bid to pour ice water on Stanton. The Miami native doused Stanton about two hours before batting practice in front of reporters.
“I’m really excited,” Mendez said before soaking Stanton. “It’s a good cause.”
COMING UP• Wednesday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (6-7, 3.96 ERA) vs. Texas Rangers RHP Martinez (2-9, 5.27), 12:40 p.m., Marlins Park.
• Thursday: Off day.