Lott: Russell Martin sees light at the end of the tunnel as he talks about his struggles with the bat

Russell Martin
Photo Credit: John Lott

After the Blue Jays’ second straight walkoff win, Aaron Sanchez praised catcher Russ Martin for helping him rebound from a rough ride through the first two innings.

You have good stuff, Martin told him. Stick with your plan.

“He was in my ear the whole time,” Sanchez said.

Throughout the first month of the season, Martin has been telling himself the same thing: stick with your plan. Keep your front shoulder in. Drive the pitch to the opposite field. But he has looked terrible at the plate, striking out in 43 percent of his plate appearances, missing completely with 15 percent of his swings, almost double his career rate.

“It’s definitely easier to give advice than to take your own advice,” he said after one-hopping a fly ball off the right-field wall with the bases loaded to lift the Jays to a 4-3 win over Texas. “But my strength throughout my career has been, when I’ve been really good I’ve been predominantly going the other way.”

Which is what he did, emphatically, in the game’s final at-bat. Rangers’ reliever Tony Barnette threw him two sliders in a row, a called strike and then a ball, the kind of pitches Martin has been pulling off and flailing at all season. Sticking to the scouting report, no doubt, Barnette threw another slider and Martin whacked it on an arc into the right-field corner.

“Whenever I’m pulling off the ball or just striding off or something like that, it’s really not a good sign for me,” he said, pretty well summing up a lot of his at-bats this season. “The fact that I’m able to stay with pitches now and use the other part of the field, it’s a good sign. Small step forward. Just keep plugging away.”

The same might be said of his team. The Blue Jays fell behind, then tied it up for the second night in a row, and then deflated a good Texas team in their last at-bat.

One week earlier, Martin struck out four times in a game against the White Sox. It was the eighth time this season he had struck out multiple times in one game. And his neck hurt. He got a lot of treatment and some extra rest, but little in the way of results.

He feels fine now, he says. And even though he’s batting .169 and slugging .183, he believes his struggles have begun to subside.

“More hard contact,” he says of his past few games. “I’m seeing the ball better. When I’m feeling right, I feel like I take one swing and the ball’s well-struck somewhere. It’s not going to happen all the time, but more consistently I feel like I’m going to start seeing that.”

He was not blaming any of his slump on his neck spasms, which bothered him off and on – mostly on – for close to two weeks. Before the neck problem, he said, “I wasn’t swinging the bat necessarily good,” which was putting it politely.

“Now that it’s gone,” he said, “I feel better so therefore I feel more confident.”

After the weekend series in Tampa Bay, he shaved off the beard he’d worn since signing with the Jays in November 2014. Only a modest moustache remains.

“Maybe just trying to change something up just to see what would happen, and so far, so good,” he said. “So the moustache is staying.”

He had a hit on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. He did not strike out on Wednesday. It was only the second time in the 20 games he has started that he finished without a strikeout.

After several of those games, Martin had worn a taciturn expression when he met the media. On Wednesday night, he fairly bounced into the scrum, declaring it was about time he had a chance to talk about something positive.

As for Sanchez giving props to his catcher, Martin smiled and shrugged it off.

“That’s him just being nice,” he said. “He did it on his own.”

That’s doubtful. It probably applies more accurately to Martin himself. The trick will be to keep it going, both for him and the Blue Jays.

  • 0noggin

    I’m not an expert on swing mechanics, but even I have noticed that of the Jays who are experiencing career-high strikeout rates (Tulo, Bautista, and until last night, Edwin and Martin), appear to be striking out a lot in two ways: a) swinging late and under the ball; b) looking.

    The kicker is that a majority of those instances involve fastballs. So, is it that they’re looking to pull breaking balls? You’d think they’d be looking for fastball first, then adjust for the breaking ball.