The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 13, 2013

Martin ready for leadership role

BRADENTON, Fla. — Russell Martin is not frightened by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.

After spending the past two years with the New York Yankees, Martin, a catcher, joined the Pirates in November. Tuesday, he worked out for the first time with his new teammates in spring training camp.

“Everybody’s in first place right now, that’s the way I see it,” Martin said. “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.”

Finding a new catcher was the Pirates’ top offseason priority, and they were quick to give Martin a two-year, $17 million offer. He took the deal, becoming one of the first free agents to switch teams last winter.

“Pittsburgh had, hands-down, the best deal available,” Martin said. “It was hard to decline that or to be patient (for another offer) when that was available.”

Martin didn’t necessarily want to leave New York. But, he sensed he wouldn’t get as lucrative an offer from the Yankees, who are trying to trim their payroll.

“It’s the business side of it, and I’ve got no problem with it,” Martin said. “Would I have enjoyed to play with the Yankees? Of course. Who wouldn’t? It’s a great environment to play in, a winning environment. But I didn’t get that opportunity, so I’m going to do my best with the opportunity I do have now.”

Martin’s first task with the Pirates is to get used to the pitching staff. He spent the past three months studying video, trying to pick up strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of each starter and reliever.

Martin will play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, so his hands-on work with the Pirates pitchers will be limited to bullpen sessions early in spring training. He’ll rejoin the Pirates for the final weeks of Grapefruit League games.

“That’s why I started doing my homework early,” Martin said.

“It’s tough to do in a short period of time, but this is better than when you’re traded during the season and you have to learn the entire pitching staff in a day.”

This is the second straight season the Pirates have a new starting catcher. Last year, it was Rod Barajas, a 13-year veteran. Barajas called a good game and was adept at guiding the pitchers, but hit just .206 and threw out just 6 percent of basestealers.

Martin, who will turn 30 on Friday, is seven years younger than Barajas. Martin also is a .260 career hitter who last year hit a career-best 21 home runs.

“He prepares well and he plays hard,” said Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett, who played with Martin in New York in 2011. “He’s going to be quicker to second (base), he’s going to make some plays, he’s just as good defensively as Rod, and he’s going to swing the bat a little bit.”

Notes: RHP Stolmy Pimentel has not yet reported to camp due to visa problems in his native Dominican Republic. ... Pirates owner Bob Nutting is scheduled to visit camp next week and will address a full-squad meeting.

 

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