Former Yankee Russell Martin quite a catch for Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin speaks to reporters

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin speaks to reporters before a baseball spring training unofficial workout in Bradenton, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2013) (Credit: AP)

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Speaking with newfound perspective after two seasons in a Yankees uniform, catcher Russell Martin, who turned 30 on Friday, is not only sporting a new uniform but a fresh approach.

"There are a lot of expectations in New York and, obviously, people expect to win, but the guys had fun," Martin said after taking off his ski cap on a chilly spring training afternoon. "[The Yankees] competed, played hard and they played the right way. That's what I'm going to remember.

"My key [now] is to have fun. I didn't always have that mind-set. It used to just be [about] performance and results. Sometimes it's hard to control those. You can control your preparation. You can control the effort you put out. When you have that recipe, normally, good things happen. Then again, you can give your best effort and not win every game."

Martin could just as easily still be in Tampa having his fun with the Yankees instead of in Bradenton with the Pirates, who lured him with a two-year, $17-million free-agent contract. "I honestly would have probably been [back] with the Yankees, but they seemed to have their hands tied," Martin said. "They wanted to fill up different [roster] spots. I don't really know what their mind-set was. I just knew they weren't ready to match.

"When I heard [the Pirates' offer] I was like: 'Look, this is a good deal. I'm not going to turn it down.' It set me up for financial freedom for my family and myself."

Martin says his experience with the Yankees forever changed his outlook on game preparation. "I learned a lot from the environment, watching the Curtis Grandersons, the Derek Jeters -- their work ethic. Those top guys like Mariano, you see how he repeats his delivery. Me, being a visual person, I learned a lot from that.

"They had a routine. It's not just about how well they practice but how efficiently they practice. It wasn't about quantity, it was about quality over there. You hear about why people have success and you see the results. Most of the time, you don't have the chance to see how it's done."

But Martin's new manager, Clint Hurdle, has distinct memories of his catcher being an All-Star performer long before he got to New York. Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies when Martin earned NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Dodgers in 2006.

"I got to see him [in the NL West] way too much," Hurdle says. "He had a lot of success against our club."

Martin, a .260 career hitter, acknowledges becoming a different kind of player in New York, swinging more often for production and less for consistency. The result was a career-high 21 homers last season but a batting average that dropped to .211.

"Yes, he's hit some homers, but he'd be the first to tell you he's not happy with the overall offensive numbers," Hurdle said. "There's a better hitter in there -- a more consistent hitter that we anticipate seeing this year."

Martin believes that Hurdle is right.

"The Yankees are a home run team," Martin said. "That's the attitude you go in with. But I'm not that type of hitter. I might have just got a little bit power-happy. I was maybe trying to go for the long ball too much."

And he vows to change that.

"This year . . . I'm not going to worry about home runs,'' he said. "My perspective is all about trying to be productive."

Of course, the Pirates are depending on Martin at least as much for his defense. Pittsburgh was 63-47 last Aug. 8 but lost 36 of its last 52 games, in part because opponents ran wild. Pirates catchers threw out only 19 of 173 base-stealers. Said Hurdle, "He'll be one of the ways we'll be much more proficient at challenging the running game."

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