BALTIMORE -- Hours before Baltimore dropped its second consecutive game to the Blue Jays, rookie shortstop Richie Martin was out on the field at Oriole Park, squaring around. This is a development season for the Orioles as a whole, but specifically for Martin, who the club is encouraging to focus on the finer points of the game in his first season above Double-A.
For Martin, that means defense, baserunning and, more and more, bunting. Two to three times per week, Martin takes on-field practice sessions, where Major League field coordinator Tim Cossins and several other coaches use a pitching machine to simulate high velocity, and preach a philosophy Martin calls “the best in the business.”
“Me in particular, I think it helps my game,” Martin said after Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. “[Bunting] has to be a part of my game, whether I like it or not.”
Martin says the instruction is “very specific,” and aims “to keep everything simple." Mixed with repetitions, its beginning to translate into on-field results, the latest example coming in one of the smaller moments on Friday, when Martin legged out a perfectly-placed bunt down the third base line in the fifth, the second of his two infield hits on the night.
Though it was largely overshadowed by two Toronto home runs, a milestone tater for Chris Davis and three failed Baltimore rallies in the late innings, the sequence spoke to the kind of impact the Orioles believe Martin can have with ample seasoning. Fourteen of his 42 hits this year have been on infield singles, and while that’s resulted in a underwhelming stat line overall -- Martin is hitting .193 with a .554 OPS even after his two-hit night -- it has given him room to showcase his obvious athleticism. And if nothing else, Martin -- along with Jonathan Villar and Stevie Wilkerson -- has helped give the Orioles an element of speed they haven’t had in some time.
“He works hard on his bunting,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “It makes things happen.”
Take for example Martin's bunt hit, which he secured by reaching a top sprint speed of 30.0 feet per second and going home to first in 3.67 seconds, per Statcast. That latter number tied the Orioles’ third-fastest such run since Statcast began tracking in 2015, and was their quickest of this season, besting Cedric Mullins’ dash on April 13 by .01 seconds. Sprinting 30.0 feet per second is elite speed league-wide; Martin’s average sprint speed of 29.4 fps checks him in as the Majors’ 19th fastest player, on average. Baltimore has never had an everyday player rank in the top 50.
“He can make things happen with his legs,” Hyde said. “So [he should] continue to improve his bunting game.”
In the short-term, the idea is it’ll help kickstart the Orioles on nights like Friday, when, through six innings, Martin had accounted for most of their offense behind losing pitcher Aaron Brooks. Down four runs after six, Baltimore scattered just five singles before Davis smacked his two-run homer, which sliced Toronto’s lead in half in the seventh. It was a 379-foot parabola, his ninth of the season and 250th since joining the Orioles in 2011. With it, Davis became the sixth player in club history to hit at least that many with the team, joining Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Adam Jones.
“Any kind of record you can tie or break, especially here, it means a lot,” Davis said. “It’s been a lot of fun to play here, wear this uniform and get to know some of the guys that played here before me.”
Often paired back-to-back near the bottom of Baltimore’s lineup, Davis and Martin are at opposite ends of their respective careers and play with diametrically different styles. But both share something: incremental improvement as the summer’s worn on. Both are coming off their most productive months of the season, with Martin’s average jumping from .157 in May to .204 in June to .233 in July. Davis’ homer was his second in three games, inching his average back nearly as close to the Mendoza Line as it has been all year. A few more knocks would get it there for the first time since 2017.
“I want to see this team succeed,” Davis said. “Everything we’ve been through his year, everything we’ve learned and started to put into play, I’d just like to see this team win.”