Nick Martini hits two home runs in Reds’ Opening Day win

CINCINNATI — Lasting Opening Day memories aren’t always made by the superstars. Sometimes, they’re made by players like Reds designated hitter Nick Martini.

A 33-year-old journeyman, Martini’s career had him endure years in the Minor Leagues with brief chances in the big leagues, and he even spent 2022 in Korea. Thursday marked his first Opening Day in the big leagues.

Martini made it count with two home runs and five RBIs that powered the Reds to an 8-2 victory over the Nationals before a sellout crowd of 44,030 fans at Great American Ball Park.

“It’s just an awesome moment. First Opening Day, two homers. That’s pretty freaking sweet,” left fielder Spencer Steer said.

“Nick Martini is going to be a legendary name around here,” said reliever Brent Suter, the Cincinnati native who struck out four without a run over the final two innings.

In the bottom of the second inning, Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead on Steer’s one-out RBI single that scored Jake Fraley. Next was Martini, who slugged a 2-1 cutter from Nationals starter Josiah Gray into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.

As the Reds rallied against Gray with one out in the bottom of the third inning, Steer’s RBI double scored Fraley again. Martini followed by hitting a 2-0 curveball to right again to make it a 7-0 game and send fans into an early celebration.

“Especially after the second one, I felt how loud it got,” Martini said. “It was just awesome. Even the first at-bat, I had so much adrenaline because this place was packed out. It was just awesome to see.”

Martini became the third Reds player to hit two homers on Opening Day. Adam Dunn did it twice, in 2007 and ‘05. He also added to what’s already been an exciting week for him.

On March 22, in the closing days of Spring Training, manager David Bell told Martini that he made the Opening Day roster. Before TJ Friedl and Matt McLain suffered injuries in camp, Martini was fighting for a spot as the 26th man. He turned out not to be the last player to make the team.

Martini needed a few moments with Bell to catch his breath and soak in that he made his first Opening Day in the Major Leagues.

“When he told me I made the team, it was hard to react at the time just because it had [been] 13 years,” Martini said. “I had a trip to Korea, came back here and signed a Minor League deal last year. Didn’t even go to big league camp. It was kind of like everything coming together at once. Special day.”

Once Bell told Martini — a reserve outfielder and first baseman — he was in the Opening Day lineup as the DH, he just walked away.

“We’ve known this guy can hit,” Bell said. “For it to all come out Opening Day, his first one, which is surprising or shocking if you think about it because this guy has been a good player for a long time. He’s always been able to hit. He’s worked incredibly hard for years, and he’s getting his opportunity now.”

Martini was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 22 last year and hit six home runs with 16 RBIs over 29 games and 79 plate appearances. Two of the homers were tying drives late in the game that helped get important wins in a playoff chase.

“He rakes. For him to go out there and hit two pops, I’m really happy about it,” Reds starting pitcher Frankie Montas said.

The Reds also had a complete day all over the field. In his Reds debut, Montas delivered six scoreless innings with four hits, no walks and four strikeouts. He has had his own journey to overcome: Montas was limited to 1 1/3 innings with the Yankees last season as he recovered from right shoulder surgery.

Baserunners stole three bases in the game, with two of them leading to runs. Defensively, Fraley threw out ex-Red Jesse Winker at second base from right field as he tried to stretch for a double to end the top of the first inning.

But the day belonged to a player who has paid his dues for years off the big league radar. Martini also had four family members at the game from his hometown of Chicago to see him enjoy the moment.

“To be able to contribute on Opening Day — I know it’s only one game — but to be able [to play] in front of that many fans, this city is a lot of fun,” Martini said.

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