Spring training | Russell Martin brings playoff experience to Pirates

New acquisition Russell Martin brings playoff experience to Pirates

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Russell Martin is used to postseason baseball.

He has been a member playoff teams in five of his seven big-league seasons.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates are mired in a 20-year playoff drought, though they have been close the past two seasons, reaching first place in the National League Central the in July before prolonged slumps knocked them from contention.

So the Pirates plucked Martin from an annual playoff contender, the New York Yankees, in the offseason.

"I've been on winning teams for the most part," Martin said. "I definitely feel like I have a winning attitude. And that's the only thing I know. ... I'm used to going to the playoffs. So that's definitely what my goal is this year. I'm pretty sure that's going to be everybody's goal this year, because they showed what they can do last year. They kind of struggled towards the end a little bit, but you learn from that. You build on that. ... It's a brand new spring. Everyone gets to start from scratch."

On Tuesday at Pirate City, Martin began the process of building chemistry with the pitching staff on the first day pitchers and catchers worked out.

But before he gets fully acclimated to his new club, Martin is heading to the World Baseball Classic in early March to represent his native Canada.

Martin joked that he wants to play shortstop.

"I'm ready to put a show on at shortstop, and we'll see what happens," said Martin with a laugh.

Pittsburgh signed Martin to a $17 million, two-year deal in the offseason. Pittsburgh catchers hit a combined .217 in 2012.

In Martin, Pittsburgh gets a player with a proven track record and one who adjusted to life in two major media markets.

His major-league career has spanned seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. He had three All-Star appearances and Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.

Last season, Martin hit a career-best 21 home runs, but the .260 career average hitter's time in New York was over.

Martin said he felt like he was in the Yankees' plans for the future, but understands it was a business decision.

"I'm in a good spot," he said. "The clubhouse here is awesome. All the guys are just good guys. The coaching staff, I mean I haven't met everyone yet, but everybody seems like they are good people. I'm enjoying it."

Martin has been reunited with his former batterymate in the Bronx, A.J. Burnett. The pair were only teammates for one season, but they developed chemistry before Burnett became the ace of Pittsburgh's staff in 2012.

"It's tough being such a Rod (Barajas) fan, but at the same time I'm such a Russell fan, too," Burnett said about changing from his primary catcher last year to the one he spent time with in New York. "I had a great time in New York with him. He prepares well. He plays hard, and he's going to help us out a little bit. He's going to be quicker to second (base). He's going to make some plays; he's just as good defensively as Rod and hopefully we can get him to swing the bat a little bit."

Aiding Martin's transition is video technology, which he has studied to learn each pitcher's stuff, how it moves and what kind of hitters he'll encounter this season.

"I'm a visual person," Martin said. "So that helps me a lot. But it's definitely going to take away from some of the time where I can just talk and hang out and get to know some of the guys, which is really important, too."

Martin also is returning to the National League, where he spent his formative years. He said changing leagues doesn't matter much to him, but there are differences between the circuits.

"When you are calling a game, there's ways to work your way out of innings," said Martin about the NL, which doesn't have the designated hitter. "The pitcher's coming at you in a couple batters, you get to make adjustments that way. In the American League, the games are longer. There's more offense. ... So as a catcher it's tougher to call a game. In the National league, there's more strategy. You have a lot more bunt action. You have a lot more things to do, so you're more active as a catcher. And that's fun for me."

And if Martin churns out a monster first year like Burnett did in 2012 -- he turned in a team-best 16 wins and 202 1/3 innings with a 3.51 earned run average -- then the fun is just beginning for the Pirates.

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