The best thing that can be said about Leonys Martin is that he has been healthy all season.
That’s a half-joke in the Season of the Injury for the 2014 Texas Rangers.
But the other half is a legitimate statement, because the more Martin plays, the better he is supposed to get.
Or that’s the theory at least. But through 114 games played, Martin is in a full-fledged regression.
An exception came Tuesday night, when he collected a career-high four hits and scored a run as the Rangers rallied past Tampa Bay 3-2 on a bases-loaded walk to Adam Rosales with two outs in the 14th inning.
Otherwise, though, a 10-for-59 skid the past 17 games has sent his average tumbling. And it’s not like he’d been having bad luck at the plate before Tuesday.
No pitch is immune from a Martin swing. Just about each plan he takes to the plate with him is immune from being executed. And opposing pitchers are immune from having to worry about Martin making an adjustment.
His funk comes as Rangers officials want to see him and other young regulars take a leap forward. The thought is that he is still an everyday player. There’s too much bat speed, arm strength and athletic ability for him not to be.
But there needs to be some aptitude and instincts. And that’s where Martin still has all kinds of room to improve.
“Some get it now. Some get it later. Some don’t get it at all,” manager Ron Washington said. “He won’t be one of those ones who doesn’t get it all. He’s probably one that will get it a little later. That’s the way learning works.”
Washington and his staff have seen their patience worn thin by Martin’s frequent lapses at the plate and in center field, though for the most part he is an improved defensive player.
He has become a pull hitter, except, it seems, when the Rangers need him to pull the ball to advance a runner to third base. He swings early in the count, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as he is swinging at quality pitches.
That hasn’t been the case, especially on first-pitch breaking balls.
“And they’re 56 feet, and 57, maybe 58.1,” Washington said. “And then they elevate the fastball.”
Said Martin: “Sometimes I need to try to see as many pitches as I can to get on base.”
It’s not that hitting coach Dave Magadan hasn’t been working with Martin. Gary Pettis has been working with Martin on base running and outfield play. At some point the player has to do his part in games.
And there’s no need for Martin to feel pressure. He has a contract for next season, and it’s not like the Rangers are playing in the heat of a pennant race.
Yet, some nerves might be at play.
“He’s never failed before,” Washington said. “Once failure sets in, you start to panic. Now, you can’t slow your mind down. When you don’t have a whole lot in your mind to begin with experience-wise, you start to panic. If he can slow it down and start getting better pitches to swing at, he’ll be back.”
That’s what Martin did while sparking the Rangers on Tuesday. He singled to the opposite field in his first at-bat against Jeremy Hellickson to snap an 0-for-12 skid, and yanked a single to right during an eight-pitch at-bat in the fifth.
Tampa Bay scored two in the sixth off Nick Tepesch, who entered the inning with a one-hitter and pitched well over seven innings. But Martin was the catalyst in the Rangers’ two-run seventh with another opposite-field single.
He scored on a sacrifice fly by Rougned Odor, and Shin-Soo Choo followed with an RBI double but was thrown out at home on a single by Elvis Andrus to shallow right field. Martin singled and stole second with two outs in the 11th, but was stranded there.
“He swung at strikes tonight,” Washington said.
The first out Martin made came in the eighth with the potential go-ahead run at second and two outs. He sent a liner to center that Desmond Jennings caught just before he smacked into the wall to keep the game tied.
“I’m just trying to keep fighting every single at-bat,” Martin said. “I understand the season has gone bad, and it’s gone bad for everybody. Everyone is trying to cope as best they can; trying to work as best they can. We recognize there’s a lot of things they can’t control, but everybody feels the same way. Everybody is disappointed.”
For his sake, Martin needs to hope that his big night is the beginning of the end of his disappointing recent stretch.