* Pittsburgh Pirates 3B coach Nick Leyva shakes the hand of C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) near the end of his home run trot. Now, Blue Jays coach Luis Rivera will have the honor. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list …. Canadians in College 2016 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
When Russell Martin walks into the Florida Auto Exchange clubhouse in Dunedin he’ll already be respected.
Same thing when the new Blue Jays catcher squats for the first time at the Bobby Mattick Complex.
So says Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach Nick Leyva.
Martin walked into the Bucs complex for the first time in the spring of 2013 at Bradenton, Fla. as an admired and valued newcomer.
“He already has the respect of his peers,” said Leyva from Philadelphia. “He’ll walk right in and be respected. They’ve all seen him play.”
Martin enters his 10th season (spending the first nine with the Los Angeles Dodgers, five, two apiece with the New York Yankees and the Bucs) in the majors and first with Toronto after signing a five-year $82 million US deal on Monday.
“(Manager) Clint Hurdle and I saw right away the time he spent with our pitching staff that first spring in the 10 day before we started games,” Leyva said. “He’d catch a side and continue to catch bullpens to get to know our pitchers. When it was over he’d go up shake a guy’s hand, give him a half hug and tell him ‘good job.’ That makes a young guy feel good.
“It was fun to see ... it was a good thing to see.”
As the Blue Jays third base coach Leyva was the second man to shake hands with jumpin’ Joe Carter (first base coach Bob Bailor was No. 1) as he rounded third (actually it was a double high-five) on his walk-off homer against lefty Mitch Williams to win the 1993 World Series.
Leyva, who served under manager Cito Gaston (1993-97, 2008-10, said the Pirates established starters A.J. Burnett, 35, Charlie Morton, 29 and Francisco Liriano, 29, had their own routines. But Martin had more of an impact on Gerrit Cole, 22 and Jeff Locke, 25.
“When he said something they listened,” said Leyva, who said Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and Martin made a good combination.
“Russ is a real student of the game and Ray is a student too, so we had one guy doing his homework knowing how to get people out as a coach, one guy doing it as a player,” said Leyva, pointing to the pitching staff as part of Pittsburgh’s success.
The Bucs were fifth in the National League with a 3.47 team ERA when they won 88 games and a wild-card berth and third with a 3.26 ERA in 2013, winning 94 times to beat the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card game and lost the NL Division Series in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Russ knows how to work individual hitters ... he`s like managers and pitchers trying to get outs,” Leyva said. “Russ is a battler. He’ll fight you in a minute -- maybe not fight, but he’ll argue.”
The former Jays coach asked if we’d seen a pitcher come off the mound “visibly upset?”
Ah, maybe every other game.
Martin dealt with that. Not in front of the TV cameras, but the battery would adjourn down the tunnel.
Or Martin would tell a pitcher “hey bear down here, we had a four run lead, now its down to a two.”
An old coach once said a catcher needed the intelligence of a Super Bowl quarterback as well as the tenacity of a Super Bowl middle linebacker.
“He’s his own guy, from pitch framing to blocking the balls like Pat Borders, to his at-bats,” Leyva said. “This year he gave up a little power to go to with the off-base percentage. He made an adjustment.”
Martin’s home run total fell from 15 last year to 11, but so did his strikeout total (108 in 2013, 78 this season). Martin played 111 games, 16 less than a year ago as his on-base mark jumped from .327 to .402.
Pirates fans, 40,629, came to PNC Park for the NL wild card against San Francisco Giants with “Bring Back Russ,” and “Re-Sign Russ” signs figuring it could be Martin’s last.
Martin, who had one of the four singles off Madison Bumgarner, led off the bottom of the ninth to chants of “Re-sign Russ!”
He flew out and headed to the Bucs dugout tipping his helmet.
The signs at the home opener inside the Rogers Centre on April 13 will read “Welcome Russ!”