SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners are looking to the past to reinvigorate the worst hitting team in baseball, hiring Edgar Martinez as their hitting coach on Saturday and reassigning Howard Johnson to the minor league system.
The surprising announcement was made before the second game of a weekend series against first-place Houston. The surprise wasn't so much the reassignment of Johnson but the hiring of Martinez.
"Watching the club it had become apparent to me that we had reached the point that a change was necessary," general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a statement. "I appreciate Howard Johnson's professionalism and work ethic, but we simply were not getting the results that we expect and require."
Martinez spent his entire 18-year major league career with the Mariners and is regarded as one of the best right-handed hitters of his generation. He has worked the past several seasons working as a guest hitting instructor during spring training.
"For the last three years I've been thinking that I want to get back into the game," Martinez said. "I think this is the right time. I haven't seen so much talent in the Mariners for a long time."
Popular with his teammates and fans, Martinez joins a team that has the worst batting average in the majors at .233 and ranks 28th in runs scored.
"The fact is we haven't performed up to our capabilities probably for a season and a half. I certainly believe this club is better than what it's shown from an offensive standpoint," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I'm hoping he can jump-start us and help us quite a bit."
The 52-year-old Martinez played 2,055 career games with Seattle and hit .312 with a .418 on-base percentage for his career and won two AL batting titles. Major League Baseball renamed the designated hitter of the year award in Martinez's honor.
"Hopefully we can really get something going with Edgar and he can help us going," Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. "To pick his brain and see what he did and his approach on hitting is going to be a lot of fun."
Martinez was already working with players in the cage and giving pointers during batting practice before Saturday's game, although he said he'd mostly be learning about individual needs for now.
"I have some ideas for some of the guys, but at the same time, it's also a lot of listening and watching, for the next few days, especially," Martinez said.
Seattle is hoping Martinez can quickly find ways to improve an offense that has been shut out four of the past nine games.
"We were disappointed in how the offense was performing. We all clearly believe this is a better offensive club than what we were producing," Zduriencik said before Saturday's game.
"We're very confident that the things Edgar will speak to our players about and bring to the table will be a real positive impact on us. We're in a position right now where we think it was just time to make a move, and we did," he said.