PITTSBURGH, Pa. — In a recent Men’s Fitness magazine article, Pirates Russell Martin discussed how he stays in shape and trains in the offseason. Being a catcher is a demanding position. It requires flexibility and quick reactions. In order to stay strong and to endure a full season behind the plate, Martin does MMA, or mixed martial arts during the winter months to gear up for a new year.
But wait, MMA? The full contact combat sport that involves striking and grappling techniques and fighting in a ring? Well, not quite. Before thoughts of Martin’s two-year $17 million dollar contract the 30-year-old signed this past offseason with Pittsburgh comes to mind, Martin explained how he trained.
“It’s not necessarily mixed martial arts, it’s the conditioning they do as far as power endurance type workouts,” Martin said. “I’ll do circuit trainings. I don’t know if it helps me out as a catcher, it definitely helps me out in the fact that my mobility is better. I feel it works the fast twitch muscles a little bit and my reactions are a little bit better. It makes me who I am right now, and I feel pretty comfortable with that.”
“I’ve been doing it the last three, four years. MMA is the term of guys going in the ring…I really don’t do that. I train with guys who do that, but it’s more in the weight room. I do the same type of exercises and stuff. I’m not throwing any jabs or k’ing anybody,” Martin said with a smile.
What Martin has been doing thus far since joining the team in February in Florida is help the running game. Opposing runners on the base paths successfully swiped 174 of 193 attempts when Michael McKenry and Rod Barajas were behind the plate in 2012. Martin has been known for his arm and his defense behind the plate. He takes pride in it. It was one of the many reasons the Pirates signed him in the offseason. Martin sports a 30% caught stealing percentage over his eight seasons in the Majors.
After the Pirates broke camp, Manager Clint Hurdle said he was impressed with Martin’s throwing ability.
“One of the takeaways [from spring] has to be just the attention to detail, the improvement, the holds, release times, slide steps, pick offs,” Hurdle said. “Russell Martin made three throws the last two games of spring training that you’re not going to see anybody make –any better, anywhere, anytime, anyhow — throwing out Ichiro, throwing out a couple of other guys.”
“We had more pickoffs in spring training then we had in the entire 2012 season. I know it’s spring training, but what we’re doing, the guys are buying into, they’re feeling more comfortable and they know it’s a weapon now. They know it’s got to be put in place. It’s going to make everyone better. It’s a team mentality, not just a pitcher-catcher mentality. I think we made good progress with it.”
Not only will Martin help keep the opposing team from running this season, the veteran catcher will help with the pitching staff. Martin had previously caught A.J. Burnett when they both were members of the New York Yankees and will be teamed up with him again in 2013. But it’s some of the younger, arms that Martin can really help grow.
“He’s handled very good teams,” Hurdle said. “His attention to detail. His preparation. His styding of the opposition. His knowing of his pitchers — that’s still a working progress. He believes in them. He speaks greatness to them. He challgnes them. He’s very good with a pat on the back, or a smack on the backside. Both are appropriate. Timing is everything. His presentation has been good in those situations because he’s already challenged some as well. The fire that he brings. We’re in a very confident place with him behind the plate for us.”
That’s a pro pitch
In the 7th inning of the Pirates 3-0 blanking of the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle was impressed by an at-bat from starter Wandy Rodriguez. So much in fact, that it was a topic again the next morning in his pregame media session in his office on Thursday.
After holding the Cubs to just one hit and a walk over his first six scoreless frames, Rodriguez lost control of his fastball in the seventh. In between pitches in the 30 degree weather at PNC Park, the lefty continued to blow on his hands in hopes of getting some feeling. After he plunked Anthony Rizzo to lead that frame, and a walk put a second runner on, Rodriguez lost control of his heater once again and loaded the bases with a second hit batter. But it was in his next at-bat against Brent Lillbridge that was impressive.
Rodriguez quickly got ahead 0-2, but Lillbridge battled and fouled off four pitches to work the count full. Catcher Russell Martin came out to the mound after the lefty threw the ninth pitch of the at-bat. The two discussed what they should throw next. Rodriguez said he wanted to go with the curve, and the veteran released a 76 mph one right at the knees for strike three looking. After the game, Hurdle said that was a “pro pitch.”
With the game on the line, Hurdle was impressed by Martin’s decision for the mound visit.
“It basically digs into everything we’re about here,” Hurdle said. “Everybody in here could use a little help. To think one guy can fix everything or is in charge of everything or has the answer to everything, that’s really a lot of weight on a persons shoudlers. I thought it was awesome that Russell went out there. As much as you want to hit the play button and just get things going, it was important they got things right. And they got it right. There’s no 24 second clock in baseball. The fact that he went out there and said, ‘what do you want to throw?’”
“It was like, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing. What are you seeing. What do you want to throw?’ Boom. Pretty impressive.”
Morton throws successful simulated game
Charlie Morton threw a simulated game on Wednesday. The right-hander threw 28 pitches, which included about 40 warming up. Hurdle said two innings went “very smooth”. Morton worked on repeating his delivery and reports said that everything was in good shape.
“It was a very good outing,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle encouraged by McCutchen’s base running
All-Star Andrew McCutchen swiped just 20 bags during the 2012 season (12 caught stealings). That number was the least that he has taken in his Major League career. During his first full season in the bigs in 2010, McCutchen successfully took 33. The center fielder is attempting to go back to his old slide –head first — this season, as opposed to sliding feet first like he did last year.
Although it’s a small sample size, Hurdle has liked what he’s seen from him on the base paths thus far. McCutchen’s stolen base on Tuesday night was his 100th in his professional career. He also picked up a pair in Thursday’s contest against the Cubs, giving him four over three games.
“It’s been very encouraging. Just watching him work for leads and look for pitches. I’m very encouraged from what I’ve seen so far,” Hurdle said. “In the winter, we all talk about a lot of things, a lot of things are written. We’ve got to make those words jump off paper and become real. That’s his intent right now.”
Catchers will have a lot control
Rookie Jeff Locke will make his season debut on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. After winning the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring training, the left-hander will work closely with either Russell Martin, or Michael McKenry, depending on who is catching that afternoon. Although Locke has tossed 51 frames in the Majors over parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh, Hurdle said that his battery mate will have a lot of control in the game. It’s something they like to do with younger players.
“They all game plan before the game,” Hurdle said. “[Pitching coach] Ray [Searage] will sit in there. I’ll join them from time to time. Maybe another coach or two…At that particualr point in time normally for a younger player, we encourage them to follow the signs. And better yet, follow the signs then follow the glove. The more we can keep off their plate, the better position we can get them in to compete.”
“We’re looking for them to compete. They don’t have to overthink. As they grow and get more experience, then you can put the two together and they become mesh and you get that full product out on the mound. Guys are able to read swings. They’re able to read hitters, set people up and see more. I think it wil be exciting. He’s got a few games in under his belt.”
In order to stay fresh and on a routine since the club broke camp from Spring in late March, Locke threw 91 pitches over six frames in an extended outing in Florida on Tuesday.