Pirates' Martin catches on quickly
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013,
BRADENTON, Fla. — There's a game Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett likes to play with catchers during spring training.
The rules are simple. When no one expects it, Burnett fires one of his nasty curveballs into the dirt. It's up to the guy squatting behind the plate to snag it, or at least block it from going to the backstop.
It's Burnett's way of testing and getting in sync with a catcher. How agile is he? How quick? How reliable?
“For pitchers, it's about confidence,” Burnett said. “Can I trust this guy? OK, I'll throw a hook here and let's see if he can block it.”
It makes no difference if the catcher is a rookie or a veteran, everyone has to play. Rod Barajas passed the test last year and won Burnett's confidence. During the first workout at Pirate City on Tuesday, it was Russell Martin's turn.
Martin caught Burnett's bullpen session and handled everything the right-hander threw at him. When it was over, there was a handshake, a fist bump and smiles.
Things went smoothly in part because Martin has caught Burnett before. In 2011, they were New York Yankees teammates.
“He prepares well, and he plays hard,” Burnett said. “He's going to help us out. He's going to be quicker to second (base), he's just as good defensively as Rod, and he's going to swing the bat a little bit. As far as what he brings to the team, as far as energy and heart, he comes to play the game.”
Burnett was traded to the Pirates before last season. In November, when most free agents were still mulling offers, Martin signed a two-year, $17 million contract.
Finding a starting catcher was the Pirates' top offseason priority, and Martin reaped the richest free-agent contract in club history. The timing was perfect: Martin became a free agent just as the Yankees became more budget conscious, and the Pirates wound up with a quick acquisition.
“Pittsburgh had, hands down, the best deal available,” Martin said. “And the Yankees, from what I was told, their hands were tied and they didn't have the money yet to offer me. They probably were working on other things. It was hard to decline or to be patient when (the Pirates' offer) was available.”
Not even the Pirates' 20-year string of losing seasons was enough to deter Martin from signing.
“Everybody's in first place right now. That's the way I see it,” Martin said. “It's a new year. Whatever happened in the past, you can't change it. But what you can do is get your mind right and ready for the season coming up. If we all do that, we can change history.”
Martin knows the first and most important thing he can do in camp is build relationships with the pitchers. He spent the past three months studying video of their mannerisms, arsenals and approaches.
On March 2, Martin will leave camp for a week or two and play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. That means his hands-on work with the Pirates' staff will have to be a crash course.
“It's tough to do in a short period of time,” Martin said, “but this is better than when you're traded during the season and you have to learn the pitching staff in a day.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: Huntington narrows team’s offseason targets
- Pirates will shop while starting pitcher Burnett makes his decision
- Breaking down the Pirates’ needs entering winter meetings
- Film about former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis in prestigious festival
- Pirates make offers to 7 players at arbitration deadline
- Pirates’ Snider talks about surgery, rebuilding swing
- Ex-Pirate Jones close to signing with Marlins