MLB

Catcher Martin ready if needed to play shortstop for Canada

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The Canadian Press
12/5/2012 4:15:55 PM
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MONTREAL -- Catcher Russell Martin says he's ready to play shortstop or any other position on the field if it will help Canada win at the World Baseball Classic.

The recently signed Pittsburgh Pirate says he'll even add fielding grounders to his winter training program in case Canada manager Ernie Whitt opts to use him in the infield.

He'd even consider playing shortstop in the unlikely case that the Pirates ever ask him to switch positions.

"I don't want to do something that's not going to help the team, whether it's Pittsburgh or Team Canada," Martin told reports Wednesday on a conference call. "I know I have the ability to play shortstop.

"I haven't played there in a long time. I know the speed of the game is going to be higher than when I last played (in high school and college). But right now, if it means I can help the team by playing shortstop for Canada then I'll do that.

"And in Pittsburgh, if they need me to play other positions, I'm able to do that as well. I feel I can play any position on the field and play it well."

Martin, of Chelsea, Que., recently told Greg Hamilton, director of national teams for Baseball Canada, that he was willing to play shortstop at the third edition of the Classic in March.

Canada does not have a shortstop in the major leagues, but it has another catcher in George Kottaras of the Oakland A's.

"The only reason it came up is that on Team Canada there's no depth at shortstop and there's a little bit more depth at catching," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I love catching."

Martin, who took the call while on vacation in Barcelona, said he is anxious to play in the world tournament, where Canada did not advance past the first round in previous editions in 2006 and 2009, both won by Japan.

But his main concern is getting ready for his first season with the Pirates, who signed the free agent to a two-year US$17 million contract last week. He will head to Arizona in early January to get down to work.

Martin has much to work on.

Since his best season in 2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he battled .293 in 540 at-bats with 19 home runs, his average has slipped each year. Last season, his second with the New York Yankees, he hit a paltry .211, although with a career-high 21 homers.

"I'll be spending a lot of time in the batting cage, that's the only way to do, it," said the 2007 Tip O'Neill Award winner as Canada's top player. "I'm putting the ball in play. I'm not striking out a lot, but maybe I'm going for the long ball too much."

Martin turned down two years at $20 million from the Yankees during training camp and was not given another offer at season's end.

As a free agent, he attracted offers from Pittsburgh and Texas, but the Rangers' bid was not in the a same neighbourhood as the Pirates.

"I though it was a good fit in Pittsburgh so I took it," he said.

He will miss the Yankees, who he called a classy organization, but looks forward to being a bigger part of the team in Pittsburgh, where he said he'll likely bat higher in the order and get more RBI chances.

The Pirates are recovering from a dreadful final two months of the 2012 campaign. They were 64-48 in early August and looked a lock to post their first .500-plus season in 19 years, but crashed to 79-83.

"New York is an exceptional city, there's always things to do, but times change," he said. "Now I'm a Pirate and I'm excited because I think I'll have a more important role there.

"I feel I'll be appreciated more as a player in Pittsburgh than New York. Not that I wasn't in New York, but I think they need me more in Pittsburgh.

"The fans there love sports -- the Steelers, hockey with Sid the Kid. The only thing missing is a winning baseball team. If I can help bring the team back over .500 and into the playoffs that would be great."

Russell Martin (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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