Mariners encouraged by early results from Martin

April 14th, 2016

SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Leonys Martin over the offseason with the idea of bolstering Seattle's defense at Safeco Field, adding one of the best outfield arms and quality center fielders in the game.

So seeing the 28-year-old Cuban off to a strong start at the plate is one of the welcome signs in the early going for a Mariners club searching for runs, particularly at home, where the club just concluded a 1-5 homestand and now heads to New York for the start of a nine-game, 10-day trek on Friday.

Martin leads the Mariners in batting average at .296 after nine games, and his .387 on-base percentage -- bolstered by a pair of walks in Wednesday's 4-2 victory in 10 innings over his former Rangers team -- represents a big initial improvement for a player with a career .305 OBP in five seasons in Texas.

Martin doesn't think his strong start is any accident, pointing to the help he's received from hitting coach Edgar Martinez since arriving at Spring Training in February.

"First of all, I'd like to say I've got one of the best hitters in baseball ever in Edgar helping me," Martin said. "He's working with me with everything, trying to be positive, trying to be focused, trying to fight every single pitch. That's going to help me be more consistent. There are a lot of the little things we've been working on.

"Mechanics and thinking. I feel way better than last year and more confident at home plate."

The Rangers loved Martin's defense as he filled their starting center-field role in 2013-14. But when his offense slipped, they eventually replaced him last season with youngster Delino DeShields, then traded him to Seattle in the Tom Wilhelmsen deal after he finished the year with a .219/.264/.313 line.

Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, who was the Rangers' farm director when Martin signed with Texas, believe the 6-foot-2, 200-pound speedster is perfectly suited for Safeco, and they felt Martin has much more offensive upside than he showed in 2015.

While the Mariners struggled in their season-opening homestand, Servais liked Martin's approach in a spacious ballpark where the ball doesn't carry well in the cooler months.

"I think when he just makes contact and puts the ball in play, preferably on the ground, good things happen," Servais said. "Not just him, but the first games I've managed in this ballpark, what's a little bit different is some of the fly balls will go to die out there. I think to survive in this park, you've got to get on top of the ball, you need some ground-ball hits. And Leonys has done that for the most part.

"He has gotten on top of the ball and driven some balls through the infield and hit them in the right spots as well. You need the ground-ball hits to help you out once in a while, too."

Martin has hit well at Safeco Field over the course of his career, posting a .284 average in 27 games. He spent enough time in Seattle during his Texas tenure that he understands the ballpark's nuances and agrees that his approach is well-suited.

"That's part of my game," Martin said. "With this huge ballpark, you've got to hit the ball hard and into the corners. The thing is, don't try to do too much. Try to hit it hard and [get] line drives in the gap. If you try to hit a homer, you're going to be in trouble. So I'm just trying to play my game, that's all."

Martin said he's noticed playing center field over the years in Safeco that the park plays much differently at different times. The ball actually carries well in the warmer months and also more so in day games or when the roof is shut.

Martin would be happy to play with the roof closed more often in the cooler months, noting it's easier to track the ball in the outfield in that situation as well. But however the park is playing, he seems like a good fit, and he's already shown an ability to run down balls in the gaps and keep opposing baserunners honest with his strong right arm.

"There's a huge outfield and big expanse to cover," Martin said. "That's an amazing feeling, when you run a long way and make a nice catch."

Martin, who stole 67 bases for the Rangers in 2013-14, also adds a speed element to the offense. He has the only stolen base for the Mariners in their first nine games, and he figures to add significantly in that area if he keeps getting on base.