Pirates notebook: Martin makes rare start at third base

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin sat at his locker early Saturday afternoon with scissors and a roll of tape, snipping at the laces of a newer-looking infielder's glove. When he finished, Martin gently put down the mitt and smiled.

“It's been broken in for a couple of years,” Martin said. “It's been waiting for some action.”

It finally got some Saturday night, when Martin made his 16th appearance at third base and his first start there since 2008. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who hits .201 against left-handed pitchers, got the night off against Braves lefty Paul Maholm.

Martin was not surprised by the move. About a week ago, manager Clint Hurdle mentioned that Martin should be sure to take some ground balls at third, just in case.

Martin played third base in youth leagues and at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. He was drafted as a third baseman by the Dodgers in 2002.

After he signed with the Dodgers, Martin worked out at extended spring training. One day, the group was short a player and needed someone to catch Jose “Jumbo” Diaz in the bullpen.

“He threw like 100 mph,” Martin recalled with a laugh. “But I was sticking every ball. They saw I had good hands and decided (catching) would be a good fit for me.”

Dodgers management sold Martin on the position change by telling him it would give him a better chance of reaching the big leagues. The only one dead-set against the move, Martin said, was coach Luis Salazar.

“I would've fought hard to make it (to the majors), wherever I played,” Martin said. “I don't regret anything, because I'm happy where I am right now. But it definitely was a step back, going to catch. I had to learn a whole, new position and new aspect of the game. Whereas, at third base, you just go out there and play.”

Third base is called the “hot corner” because it can test a player's agility and defensive skills. But Martin said it doesn't compare to the grind of catching.

“(Playing third) definitely helps you get a breather mentally,” he said. “For me, it feels like a day off, mentally. I just get to go out there and have fun and enjoy the position.”

Brief outings

Jonathan Sanchez's past two outings have been very brief, but only one of them was his fault. On April 10, Sanchez was bounced after giving up nine runs in 3 13 innings against Arizona. Last Tuesday, he tossed two innings before the game against St. Louis was rained out.

On the night of the rainout, Sanchez threw four simulated innings to keep his pitch count at a normal level.

“I feel fine,” Sanchez said. “It's just like if I had thrown in a game.”

Sanchez will start Sunday in the series finale against the Braves. In his side sessions, the left-hander has been working on his fastball command and delivery repetition.

“Last week (against the Diamondbacks) was the first time we'd really seen him spray the ball,” Hurdle said. “There's a time you just need to push that last one away and focus on the challenge in front of you. For him, that means throwing low strikes.”

Crunching numbers

In Friday's 6-0 win against the Braves, three Pirates pitchers combined to face 27 batters. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Pirates faced the minimum was July 25, 1982, against Atlanta, when John Candelaria tossed a four-hit shutout. ... Pirates pitchers have tossed three shutouts of two or fewer hits, which leads the majors. ... In his past five starts against the Braves, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez is 2-1 with a 1.09 ERA. Over his first eight starts against Atlanta, Rodriguez went 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA.

Boston strong

Proceeds from Saturday's Pirates Charities 50-50 raffle were donated to OneFundBoston, which is raising cash to assist families affected by the bomb attack Monday at the Boston Marathon. ... Also, “Sweet Caroline,” a Fenway Park tradition, was played midway through the first inning as a tribute to the people of Boston.

Minor matters

On Saturday, Triple-A Indianapolis first baseman Matt Hague extended his on-base streak to 15 games and his hitting streak to six games. ... Right-hander Luis Heredia will begin throwing in extended spring training games this week. The Pirates plan to send Heredia to Low-A West Virginia in May and want to manage his pitch count now so he can finish the season with the Power.

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