When new Yankees catcher Russell Martin speaks about filling veteran Jorge Posada's shoes, he stresses being able to be a sound defensive catcher for the Yankees that can guide a pitching staff through the ups-and-downs of a long baseball season.
Apparently, he can also fill those shoes with speed rarely seen from Yankees catchers.
“While my legs are fresh early in the season, I try and get my bases there,” Martin said. “September is a little harder but my legs feel good right now and I’m recovered from that hip and that knee incident I had and I feel good.”
In his first game taking over for Posada as the Yankees starting catcher, Martin showed some wheels on the bases as helped guide the Bombers to a 6-3 win over the Tigers. Martin finished 1-for-3 while stealing third base and also beating a throw home on a sacrifice fly, in addition to calling a strong game that limited the Tigers offense to just three runs.
“I think it’s more for the fans so the fans don’t really get on me,” Martin said about getting off to a fast start. “My main thing is to be here for the pitchers and make sure they’re getting the best out of their potential. Jorge has done that well for a long time.”
For the first time since 1999, Posada, one of the greatest offensive catchers in baseball history, didn’t start behind the plate, with Martin taking over the duties after signing a one-year deal with the team in the offseason. Posada has now taken over as the team’s full-time designated hitter.
As good a catcher as Posada has been, speed has never been part of his game, with just 20 stolen bases in his first 16 seasons in the majors. Thursday, Martin showed that he can nab a base here and there and isn’t afraid to challenge outfielders.
After leading off the third inning with a single to left field in his first at-bat with the Yankees, Martin later stole third base to put runners on first and third with one out. Martin said he had the green light to steal and saw Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander execute two inside moves in a row. Knowing that Verlander does not have the quickest delivery to the plate, Martin took off for third, beating the throw.
Mark Teixeira hit a three-run home run on the next pitch to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
In the seventh, with the Yankees nursing a 4-3 lead, Martin successfully tagged on a shallow sacrifice fly to center field by Derek Jeter to give the Yankees a two-run cushion.
“It’s a situation where you have to be aggressive at that point in the game,” Martin said. “Rob [Thomson], our third base coach, told me to go and I tried to throw on the burners and I got in there.”
When Martin didn’t wreak havoc on the bases, he successfully helped his pitchers navigate a tough Tigers lineup. The Tigers managed just six hits on the day and did not get a hit in the final three innings against the Yankees' improved bullpen
“I thought it was great,” starting pitcher CC Sabathia said. “We had a lot of communication during spring training and I think I shook him off one time. So our chemistry is pretty good.”
While the frigid weather made for tough conditions during the game -- especially for Martin, who spent the first five years in the big leagues in Los Angeles -- the Yankees newest catcher couldn’t stop smiling after a successful debut.
“The main thing on my mind was I wanted to get a win and that’s pretty much my mindset every time I go out there,” Martin said. “Obviously Opening Day there is going to be some jitters but after you get the first three outs in the first inning, everything settles down and you realize it’s just baseball.”