You may have been surprised that the Texas Rangers called up Nick Martinez to take A.J. Griffin’s spot in the rotation Saturday night. After all, a 14-22 career record in the majors doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing.

You can also be excused for being totally stunned that Martinez carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the Rangers’ 2-1 win over Kansas City.

Elvis Andrus stole the headlines in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off single to score Rougned Odor, handing the Rangers their first three-game win streak of the season. But the Rangers don’t get to that point without Martinez’s sterling effort, followed by scoreless work afterward by Alex Claudio and Matt Bush.

But manager Jeff Banister knew something had changed when it came to Martinez.

“We’d gotten reports on how he had pitched at Triple A and it was similar to what we saw tonight,” Banister said.

What the Rangers saw on tape was a pitcher that had reclaimed the aggressiveness that allowed him to invade the team’s opening-day rotation in 2015 after just five starts above High Class A. He had languished on the fringes of the starting rotation and the Rangers’ minor league system because he’d lost some of that. There were no such issues Saturday night, as Martinez poured everything into the zone — his fastball, his curveball and his cutter. He didn’t flinch from throwing inside to hitters. He didn’t get over-reliant on working the edges away from hitters.

“That’s probably, since early 2015, as good as I’ve seen him pitch,” Banister said. “He was very aggressive with the fastball in and away and he worked it in all quadrants.”

For five innings Martinez commanded the strike zone as if he was its superior officer. He didn’t get as many ground ball outs as one would have liked. But he only gave up one baserunner, a walk to Brandon Moss, in the second inning.

The game even started taking on that charmed aspect in the fifth when Andrus went deep to the hole to his right to snap up a grounder by the Royals’ Whit Merrifield. Once he caught it he went airborne, pivoted his body in midair in that way that only Andrus and a few other shortstops can, and threw Merrifield out at first.

Then came the sixth. Rangers reliever Matt Bush said he had no idea that Martinez carried a no-hitter into the sixth. But Martinez was aware.

“(It happened) right around the time I gave up the hit,” Martinez said with a laugh.

When Martinez surrendered the no-hitter in the sixth, on a seeing-eye one-out single by Drew Butera, it was time to see if the young right-hander would react in a way that would allow the game to get out of control.

Martinez got Alex Gordon to ground out, followed by a Mike Moustakas RBI single, a Lorenzo Cain single, and then a groundout by Eric Hosmer to end the inning. It wasn’t perfect, but Martinez managed to navigate the top four hitters in Kansas City’s lineup without letting KC break the tie. He came out for the seventh inning, gave up a one-out single to Moss, and then escaped by inducing a pop-out by Alcides Escobar and then striking out Christian Colon.

“I told myself to keep the ball down and not get beat in the air,” Martinez said.

Martinez walked away with a no-decision, not exactly the reward a starting pitcher seeks for a good night’s work. But his performance has been emblematic of the Rangers’ starting rotation which, lately, has kept Texas from falling further behind in the AL West.

Entering Saturday’s game Rangers starting pitching had given up one or fewer runs in eight of their previous 13 games. Rangers starters had a 2.50 earned run average since April 8, the second-best in the majors. The only team better? Saturday’s opponent, Kansas City, which sat at 2.10. The Rangers still managed to win the first three games of the series, and Martinez managed to make it 9 of 14 games with one or fewer runs allowed by Rangers starters when he left the game after the seventh inning.

One of the big concerns about this rotation, for me, was whether there was a Colby Lewis-type pitcher, one that could eat up innings and keep his team in games. Oddly enough, Martinez sat at Lewis’ old locker and there was a Colby Lewis bobblehead in the empty locker next to him, as if it was watching over him. That doesn’t mean he’s the new Lewis, of course, but with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish anchoring the rotation this group seems to have that Sele-and-Helling-and-take-the-shelling kind of vibe to it.

At least on paper it does. But that’s not the reality.

A.J. Griffin, the pitcher Martinez replaced in the rotation, is 2-0 in three starts and while the ERA is high (4.11), he’s winning games. Andrew Cashner’s two starts has yielded a 0-1 record, but in two starts he has a 2.38 ERA. Martin Perez is 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA, but his opponent batting average (.361) is way too high and he only had 16 strikeouts to 12 walks.

So why is this staff better than it looks on paper? Well, for one thing, look at the overall runs allowed. In their first six games — that horrible 2-4 start —  the Rangers allowed 33 runs, or 5.5 runs per game. They gave up four or more runs in five of those first six games. In their next set of six games, the Rangers got better, giving up 27 runs, or 4.5 runs per game. The record didn’t get much better, though, as they went 2-4 in that stretch. 

After Saturday’s game — which completed their third set of six games this season — the Rangers had allowed 16 runs, or 2.6 per game and had gone 4-2. This rotation is rounding into a solid group after a rough start.

The Rangers are not under .500 because of their rotation. They’re under .500 because Adrian Beltre is on the DL, because five of the players they started Saturday night were hitting under .200 and because their closer situation went off the rails in the season’s first two weeks. They’re under .500 because up until Saturday the Rangers had only put together a pair of two-game win streaks this season. The Rangers have lost four games when they’ve led after six innings and haven’t rallied to win a game when behind after the sixth inning this season. They have won two games when tied after the eighth inning. Both have come in this series.

Those are all things that, in the balance of a 162-game season, will likely correct themselves. In the meantime, this Rangers rotation is doing solid work under the radar in the season’s first month, with Martinez providing the latest boost to a team trying to dig its way out from underneath the rubble of a poor start.