Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yankees Fans: Where Have You Gone Russell Martin?

Russell Martin, in his first year as New York Yankees catcher, started the season at a blistering pace and made Yankee fans forget about not seeing Yankee stalwart Jorge Posada crouching behind the plate a lot easier to fathom.

The former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher had four home-runs and 13 RBI's by his thirteenth game in pinstripes and he became more than a just a transitional bridge between the Posada Era to the Yankees future catching star, Jesus Montero.

One problem, since May 24, Martin doesn't have an extra-base hit and is batting .136 (8-for-59) in his last 17 games?

What the hell happened?

Surprisingly,  Martin is still the leading vote-getter for the American League's starting catcher's spot--probably based on his early-season offensive explosion-- for this year's All-Star Game.  Martin currently has a 400,000 vote lead over the Texas Rangers Alex Avila who is slowly creeping up to the Yankee for the starting position.  Avila is batting .304 with 10 home-runs in his second season.

A two-time National league All-Star with the Dodgers, Martin was released by the team after slumping in 2009 and having a serious hip injury in 2010.

The 28 year-old backstop was signed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Yankees.  It immediately looked like the Yankees GM Brian Cashman salvaged an Antiques Roadshow-type find mixed in with his box of off-season garage-sale buys.  Martin looked like the early favorite for the comeback player of the year.

Along with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the deal made Cashman look brilliant by landing Martin and his potential at a risky, but relatively bargain basement price.  It also kept the catcher from going to the Boston Red Sox.

By the beginning of May,  Martin had pounded nine home-runs, had 26 RBI's, stole six bases and had a slugging percentage hovering around .600.  Martin's early success helped take the pain out of the Yankees Cliff Lee fiasco.

Only today, the native Canadian is still stuck with nine homers and knocked in only four runs since.  Martin's slugging percentage has dipped to a pedestrian .398.

Give credit where it is due.  Martin has been solid behind the plate and, with the Yankees M*A*S*H unit full of starters and relievers, Martin is more Hawkeye than Frank Burns.  Yankees players say Martin's sense of humor and team work make him a popular and welcome figure in the locker room as well.

Two weeks ago, a back problem took Martin out of the line-up for a couple of days, but he resisted going on the 15-day DL.  It is quite possible he is still feeling the ill-effects of that injury and came back too soon.   Martin said he "felt pain when swinging."

It makes you realize that extending Derek Jeter's stay on the 15-day DL might not be such a bad thing after all.

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