Pirates notebook: Martin finding power stroke

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, March 10, 2014, 9:09 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Midway through spring training, Russell Martin has found his home run stroke.

On Monday, Martin bashed a two-run homer off Baltimore Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman. It was Martin's fourth home run this spring, tops in the majors.

“It's just being healthy and feeling free up there. It's a nice feeling,” Martin said. “I'm not taking pitches. I'm aggressive until the pitch tells me not to swing.”

Martin had not homered in three of his previous four spring training camps. The last time Martin hit four home runs in spring training was in 2009.

The early power surge in 2009 did not carry over to the regular season, however. Martin went deep seven times that year, the second-lowest tally of his career.

“In 2009, most of those (spring homers) were pulled,” Martin said. “Now I'm hitting the ball the other way.”

Martin did not leave the yard during 2012 spring training, then went on to mash a career-high 21 homers that season with the New York Yankees. Some of the credit, he said, goes to the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.

“The field itself helped quite a bit,” Martin said, smiling. “I remember more than a few just barely getting out. I learned some things over there from my teammates and coaches.”

Martin won't fret if his big spring causes fans to expect more home runs from him this summer.

“Who knows what I can do if I believe in myself?” he said. “There are guys who have breakout years at any point in time. I don't think about expectations because I expect myself to give the best I can. That's it. I keep it as simple as I can.”

Taillon, five others cut

Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon was among six players sent to minor league camp as the Pirates made their first round of spring training cuts.

Infielder Matt Hague and catcher Carlos Paulino also were reassigned to minor league camp. Right-hander Casey Sadler was optioned to Indy. Infielder Alen Hanson and left-hander Joely Rodriguez were optioned to Double-A Altoona.

“The pitchers who we project to be starters in the minor leagues are the ones who go out the quickest,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We need to get them stretched out as well as get our own guys stretched out. Casey, Jameson and Joely didn't do anything wrong; we're just excited about their futures as starters. We need to get them in position to be able to throw 90-100 pitches when their seasons start.”

New slot for Schlereth

Reliever Daniel Schlereth is trying to reinvent himself by dropping his arm slot to a low three-quarters position.

“It's hard because ... I used to throw a 12-6 curveball, but now I've got to get used to more of a slurvy type break, a sweeper rather than a sharp downward breaking ball,” Schlereth said. “I used to be more of a velocity guy. Now I've got to change my identity to be more of a control guy, hitting the bottom of the strike zone and getting guys to beat it into the ground.”

The lower arm angle also has affected the action on Schlereth's fastball.

“I'm getting a lot of downward movement on it,” he said. “My catchers have been telling me it moves like a split-finger and it's 91-92 mph, which is difficult to hit. I had a couple of outings where I just threw all fastballs, and I got out of those innings pretty easily.”

Schlereth, 28, was Arizona's first-round draft pick in 2008. A year later, he was dealt to Detroit as part of a three-team trade that included pitchers Max Scherzer, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.

Schlereth pitched in 73 games, all in relief, for the Tigers from 2010-12 and had a 3.98 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. He signed with the Orioles last year but had two stints on the disabled list and only 12 outings in the minors. In January, Schlereth signed a minor league contract with the Pirates.

Around the horn

Manager Clint Hurdle earlier indicated Pirates pitchers might start batting this week. But it won't happen Wednesday when Travis Ishikawa is listed as the designated hitter for Gerrit Cole against the Twins. ... Milver Reyes, manager of the Gulf Coast League Pirates, won the Chuck Tanner Award, given annually to a member of the Pirates' minor league staff who exemplifies Tanner's optimism, work ethic and leadership.

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