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Timely hit could be lift Martin needs at plate

Timely hit could be lift Martin needs at plate

ANAHEIM -- The scoreboard had Russell Martin's average at .172 when he stepped in for a key eighth-inning at-bat on Monday, so to say that the Yankees catcher needed the confidence boost of a big hit would be putting it lightly.

Martin delivered, slashing Jason Isringhausen's full-count pitch inside the third-base line for a game-tying two-run double. Though the Yankees lost, 9-8, to the Angels, Martin hopes the hit will provide something to build on.

"I'm starting to feel pretty good at the plate," Martin said. "Obviously the numbers aren't going to change overnight, but I feel like I'm seeing the ball better and taking better swings. I probably have 300 at-bats left, so I'll just try to make them all good ones."

Martin entered play on Tuesday batting .186 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 40 games, though one encouraging note is that Martin's 20 walks -- good for third on the roster, behind only Curtis Granderson (29) and Alex Rodriguez (21) -- have boosted his on-base percentage to .329.

"I think he's hit the ball at times pretty hard," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He lined out to right field again [on Monday] and hasn't had a lot of luck. He hasn't had any bloop hits.

"He hasn't had any of those 22-hoppers through the infield where you've got people running all over the place and can't get to it. He's had some bad luck, so I think [Monday's game-tying hit] was important. I think it can get him going."

Girardi has seen Martin keep an even keel despite the slump, which is actually somewhat surprising. But Martin said that his priority is handling the Yankees' pitching staff, which helps him get through lean times offensively.

"I have never been the guy that takes at-bats out on to the field," Martin said. "I really try and separate those things. My defense doesn't really affect my hitting, but definitely when I'm hitting, I'm having more fun playing the game. It doesn't really change my mindset in how I call a game. I feel like I can help the team win even when I'm not swinging the bat."

Girardi has said numerous times that his first concern from a catcher is defense. The former catcher said that he believes Martin's defensive contributions can offset his low batting average.

"We know that Russell is able to catch at a very high level back there," Girardi said. "We've seen the balls he's able to block and all the things he's able to do behind home plate. As a catcher, to me, the most important job is defense, and he's able to do that."

Girardi said that he doesn't expect Martin's sub-.200 batting average to hang around all season, but Girardi said that even if Martin continues to hit on the interstate, the Yankees can absorb that in their lineup.

"I can live with it. I'll live with it," Girardi said. "I think you can. Obviously the defense is very important, but if [.186] is what it's going to be, we might have to live with it."