Martin taking offense with defense-only reputation

SARASOTA, Fla. - Richie Martin is blocked at shortstop and unsure whether he can claim second base or a utility job.

He’s no longer hearing how he should focus only on his defense at short and not worry about what he offers at the plate. Hold the gravy.

Martin-Slides-Home-Black-Sidebar.jpgSpring training 2020 certainly has a different feel and sound for Martin, the former Rule 5 pick who came within a home run yesterday of the cycle.

Martin was allowed back at his old position while José Iglesias stayed in Sarasota for workouts. He was slotted eighth in the order and had a double and stolen base in the second inning, an RBI single in the third and a three-run triple in the sixth.

The spring batting average has climbed to .385 with five hits, including a home run, in 13 at-bats.

Looks a bit like the September version of Martin, who was 11-for-29 (.379) with a 1.055 OPS. Eight of his 23 RBIs were collected over the final month.

“I tried to carry the stuff over from last year,” he said yesterday while standing outside the visiting clubhouse at LECOM Park. “I think it’s important to stick with the same routine. Just try to stay the same as you can every day. I think that will make you consistent.”

The triple that cleared the bases was an impressive drive to deep left-center field. Power that didn’t surface much last summer while he slashed .208/.260/.322.

“You’ve got to be productive if you want to stick in this game,” he said. “That (defense) was their priority last year, but nobody likes struggling, so regardless I’m always trying to produce at the plate.”

Manager Brandon Hyde keeps talking about the bevy of utility candidates - because he’s asked about them almost daily. Martin has to be included, though he only played shortstop last season.

There’s the experience at second base in the minors and the ground balls he’s been taking at third base in camp.

There’s the intrigue of carrying a player with his speed and energy who they’ve trusted at short.

This is an important spring training for Martin, however it plays out.

“I’m not in a position where I can be lax,” he said. “I’m just going to go out every day and, I always play like it’s my last game, but I think that’s a mentality you have to have every day no matter who you are in this game.”

Martin said he stuck with his usual winter routine. The same kinds of preparation. And same focus.

“Obviously, being in the league for a year, last year I learned a lot about myself. Just how at-bats go, how the game goes,” he said. “I was able to build on that in the offseason.”

The Orioles can option Martin now that he’s shed Rule 5 status, which would make him the everyday shortstop at Triple-A Norfolk. But he’s firmly in the utility discussion, along with Andrew Velazquez, who batted behind Martin yesterday and had two hits, an RBI, three stolen bases and two runs scored.

Martin and Velazquez executed a double steal in the second.

“He’s quick, man,” Martin said. “I’ve known him for, like, five days and he’s awesome. He’s really cool to talk to. Really communicates well.

“When we’re on the bases we’re bouncing ideas off each other. Even on the field in practice. He’s just a really easy guy to talk to and communicate baseball with.”

Velazquez laid down a perfect bunt on the left side in the fifth inning and didn’t draw a throw.

“He’s a speed guy,” Hyde said. “Talking to coaches on other teams, he can do a lot of things, and he showed it today with the bunt single, a couple stolen bases. He’s played short, now he’s played center field.

“He’s showcasing well and it’s fun to have a guy like that, that kind of speed, on the team.”

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