Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Russell Martin's .600 Slugging Percentage Is Pretty Good So Far, Eh?

The New York Yankees have to be pleasantly surprised with their collection of garage-sale pick-ups this off-season and rising to the top of the scrap-heap is catcher Russell Martin.  The Dodgers cast-off, who was coming off two disappointing and frustrating seasons in Los Angeles, has a .600 slugging percentage this season; which ranks seventh in the AL.

Martin, who has caught every game this season except one, is taking over nicely for the veteran Jorge Posada.  The Yankee backstop's new-found positive attitude is showing too.  He blamed his poor performances in 2009-10 on being unfocused.  According to his new Yankees teammates, that is all in the past.

The young righthander's chemistry with his new battery-mates is blossoming as well.  He even painted his fingernails orange to make it easier for the pitchers to pick up his signals.

Starter A.J. Burnett--the recipient of three wins with Martin--joked that his new catcher might have just wanted his nails orange, but got serious when asked how the catcher is calling for more change-ups over fastballs in a game.

"He believes in it, and I'm starting to, more and more," said the 3-0 starter.

 Yankees GM Brian Cashman took a chance on Martin.  The Canadian native came up with the Dodgers in 2006 and had three solid years in a row before slumping in 2009 and breaking a hip in 2010.  He is a two-time all-star and has a Gold Glove award  on his mantle.  Last season looks like a faded ghost of the real Martin.  He hit only five home-runs in 97 games last year.

Now the new Yankee is hitting .289 with four home runs and 11 RBI's in 13 games.  If anyone believes a catcher, built like a fullback, can't steal bases, especially after watching Posada chug around the base paths, should know Martin already has a couple of stolen bases too.  

Martin chose the Yankees over the Boston Red Sox because he said the Yankees wanted him more.  He signed a one-year deal for $4 Million.  Now the insecurity of his last two seasons has been put far behind.

 "I want to prove to myself I can do it," said Martin.  "I'm 28 years-old.  I don't really feel old.  I don't really feel beat up.  I've healed from my injuries.  I feel back in shape and I' enjoying playing baseball."

Martin's transition from Dodger blue to Yankee pinstripes had to be made easier by associating with Dodgers and former Yankee idols--hitting coach Don Mattingly and manager Joe Torre.  Martin was under the tutelage of the two Yankee legends for the past few seasons and it's a sure bet Yankee tradition was not unspoken in the  L.A. dugout.

Cashman's flea-market pick-up of Dodger's reject Martin, so far, looks like an "Antiques Roadhouse" type bonanza.  One man's trash...

Besides his offensive resurgence and contributions, Martin has ingratiated himself to the veteran World Series-winning Yankee players with his sense of humor and humility.

The six-year veteran Martin actually went up to Posada, whom he is replacing, and asked the veteran catcher--with 16 years under his belt-- for advice at the beginning of the season.  Not a bad company move by Martin--even for a pro with a couple of All-Star appearances himself.

"On this team, they think about winning, whatever it takes," he said.  "It's just a good environment to be in."

Martin may be considered to be one of the first-place Yankees' consolation prizes after the losses of Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford; but has already proven to be healthy and back to All-Star form.  He said his injuries were blown out of proportion and claims he's had only one surgery to "cleanup" a knee and his broken hip has healed on it's own.

"You guys can't always believe what you read in the paper," he joked.


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