Martin's actions speak volumes to Pirates
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Until a few weeks ago, Russell Martin had never met Pirates reliever Chris Leroux, nor did Martin know much about him.
Spring training can be a bit like speed dating for newly acquired pitchers and catchers. Martin, who signed with the Pirates in November, tries every day to get acquainted with the staff and build working relationships.
It can happen by catching a bullpen session, going over a scouting report or just by swapping stories in the clubhouse. Sometimes, it happens in unexpected ways, as when Martin was ejected from the game Sunday for barking at the home plate umpire.
Leroux struggled in the first inning Sunday. He yielded eight runs, including a grand slam, and retired only one batter. Martin thought Chad Fairchild's small strike zone was squeezing Leroux, and he let the ump know it. A few words were exchanged, then Fairchild tossed Martin — a rarity in a spring training game.
“Russ had my back there,” Leroux said. “I'm glad he had my back and noticed the same things I noticed.”
Martin could've kept his mouth shut — it was, after all, only a meaningless spring game — and gotten in the work he needs to prepare for the season. But Martin felt he owed it to his new teammates to speak up.
“We got Russell for a number of reasons, one of them being his passion behind the plate,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He took a stand for his men — absolutely good to see.”
It's the kind of leadership the Pirates need, and which they expect to get from several players.
Second baseman Neil Walker is one of the most outgoing guys in the clubhouse. When Jerry Sands was traded to the Pirates in December, one of the first calls he got was from Walker. And in almost every game this spring, Walker has spent an inning or so in the bullpen, hanging out with the relievers.
“That's the way I am,” Walker said. “Me being ... boisterous, or whatever you want to call it, is just me being me. I want to keep it light in here and not let guys get down on themselves. So much of this game is about confidence. Regardless of whether it's a good day or a bad day, you have to find some way to stay somewhere in between.”
Who knows how many potential 0-for-20 slumps never happened because a player took a minute to pass along an upbeat thought to a teammate?
“Sometimes, all it takes is saying, ‘Relax. Have some fun,' ” veteran Brandon Inge said. “I'm a big team guy. You have to have talent, but equally as important is having guys who will be good teammates, good people in general. If you have a bunch of (jerks) together, it just won't work.”
During a Society of American Baseball Research panel earlier this month, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy theorized Inge's attitude could be worth several wins in a season. Inge and McCarthy were teammates last year on the Athletics.
“For Brandon to say that, I'm flattered,” Inge said. “Most of those guys were just as important as everyone else. But the mesh of everyone together was great, just because of the way we got along.”
Did Inge's attitude help the A's become a surprise playoff team last season? Perhaps. But the 35-year-old utilityman, who's in camp on a minor league contact, won't make the club unless he can contribute on the field.
“You've got to be able to play,” Hurdle said. “There's got to be a skill or a tool he can bring to the table to help you win the game. You don't have to be a talker. Some people do it with words, other do it with actions. But it is important.”