When Leonys Martin was briefly demoted from the top of the Texas Rangers’ lineup a week ago, manager Jeff Banister made a point to make it clear that the move was only temporary.
Banister was careful to massage his center fielder’s ego while also shuffling a lineup that had been, to put it mildly, inconsistent the first week of the season.
After hitting in the No. 8 spot for two games, Martin was back at leadoff to start the team’s current eight-game road trip in Seattle. The time away did something for Martin even if he’s not sure what.
Through the first four games of the trip he was 8 for 17 with three doubles, two walks and three RBI. He’s raised his average from .143 on April 15 to .237 before Wednesday’s game against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. The Diamondbacks won 8-5, withstanding a four-run Rangers rally in the ninth. Martin was 1 for 4 with an RBI and a walk.
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“You can take [the brief demotion] one of two ways,” Banister said. “You can put a guy in timeout and sit him over there and not play him, and that’s anti-productive unless it’s warranted.”
Instead, Banister tried to take some pressure off Martin by moving him to the bottom of the order, where expectations are different.
“It’s still a competitive situation, he can still compete, but it’s not as magnified, not as high profile. He’s still one of the hitters.”
Martin didn’t exactly bust out of his slump in those two games against the Angels on April 14-15. He was 1 for 6 with a walk and two runs scored.
“What I’m doing now is swinging at strikes,” Martin said. “That’s what I think is happening.”
Being stingier at the plate is allowing him to see more pitches, something Banister has tried to instill in him since spring training. He wants Martin to keep his aggressive style at the plate but also be more selective.
After Tuesday’s game in which Martin saw a combined 31 pitches in five plate appearances, Banister heaped on the praise, offering the stat that night and again Wednesday.
“Exactly what we expected coming out of spring training,” he said. “Competitive at-bats. Patient but still some urgency. It’s all about controlling the at-bat, controlling the strike zone. Not getting too big. When pitches are out of the zone you’re not chasing.”
It’s not only about Martin’s success at the plate, but the rest of the offense. The more pitches Martin forces from the pitcher, the better look the hitters following him have. Plus, extra pitches lead to an earlier exit, as the Rangers saw Tuesday with Nick Martinez.
An error by Rougned Odor extended the sixth inning by 12 pitches. Martinez was likely to have stayed on the mound for the seventh until his inning was prolonged.
“Any pitches you log in early does affect that starter,” Banister said. “It leads to runs and him being able to do the things on base that are in his skill set.”
Martin has three stolen bases since April 14
“I try to get as much information as I can about the pitcher and try to win the at-bat no matter what, a walk or a base hit,” Martin said. “The one thing for me is always swing at strikes. Try to put the ball in play. When I get on base I put a little pressure on the pitcher. That’s my job, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Patience and trust in his own swing have led to Martin’s surge, Banister said.
“When you’re having success it breeds confidence,” Banister said. “When you’re a confident player you play more relaxed. You’re more relaxed you’re more apt to have better production.”