Texas Rangers

Rangers’ Martin leads off season with slump

Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin was robbed of a walk-off grand slam Sunday against the Astros.
Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin was robbed of a walk-off grand slam Sunday against the Astros. Star-Telegram

The catch that robbed Leonys Martin of a walk-off grand slam Sunday remained fresh on his mind nearly 24 hours later.

Every time he looked at his phone, presumably at Twitter or text messages from friends, video of George Springer’s leaping catch was waiting for him. The media wouldn’t let him forget, either.

So flustered was Martin that he couldn’t complete a sentence without a curse word.

The difference between a catch and a hit was, of course, a Texas Rangers win. Martin also rattled off missing out on his first grand slam, four RBIs, a home run and a run scored.

Another difference, though, was that the catch left Martin in a 1-for-22 skid at game’s end. Had Springer missed, Martin would be in a 2-for-21 slide.

That’s not good for anyone, not to mention the player who was anointed early in spring training as the Rangers’ leadoff hitter. Martin, who was batting .125 entering Monday, is supposed to be the one batter setting the tone and causing havoc each game.

It’s too early in the season for manager Jeff Banister to make a change, and Martin isn’t yet on double-secret probation. But with all that is wrong with the Rangers’ offense, the guy at the top of the lineup is at the top of the mis-hit list.

“The leadoff guy ... you’d like for him to be a high on-base guy because he’s going to get more at-bats,” Banister said. “So if he gets more at-bats and he has a high on-base, he’s on base more.

“You want him to be able to do other things as far helping to create offense and create scoring opportunities for you: steal a base, go first to third, score on a double, draw the attention of the opposing team or pitcher. That’s creating opportunities for your offense.

“Leonys possesses those skills. As this thing gets going and he gains confidence where he’s at and his ability to get on base, I feel confident in him.”

Martin sparked a four-hit, three-run first inning Monday, but the Rangers had only three hits the rest of the way in a 6-3 series-opening loss to the Angels. Ross Detwiler, making his second start, allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings, with four coming in the fifth as the Angels hit two two-run homers.

Martin didn’t reach again after his leadoff single. His lone hit during his 1-for-22 funk was a seventh-inning single Sunday that drove in two runs. He said that hit gave him confidence.

While a leadoff man should see pitches, even if he leads off an inning only once a game, Martin said that the situation dictates how aggressive he is. When a runner is in scoring position, he’s hacking.

“I feel really comfortable,” he said. “It refreshed my mind after the hit to the middle, and I felt relaxed.”

Martin, though, has been too aggressive at times. He was seeing a scant 2.94 pitches per plate appearance. The top leadoff man last season in pitches per plate appearance was Matt Carpenter, the former TCU star who saw an MLB-best 4.37 pitches for St. Louis.

“Sometimes I’ve got keep in my mind that I need to take a pitch, see what happens, try to get as much information as I can,” Martin said. “But sometimes you’ve got to be aggressive at home plate. You can’t be the same every time.”

Banister said that he continually speaks with Martin about the approach he needs to have. The entire offense needs to have a better idea of the strike zone, try to work counts and then swing at their pitch.

They were better Sunday against Houston and started well Monday against Angels starter Matt Shoemaker. Martin got the offense rolling in the first with a leadoff single on the third pitch, went from first to third on a one-out single by Adrian Beltre, and scored the game’s first run on a Prince Fielder single.

“We don’t want to identify ourselves as a ball club who fires early on pitchers’ pitches and makes soft-contact outs,” Banister said. “We don’t want to be identified with being ahead in the count and making soft-contact outs either.

“It felt like we started gaining some traction there.”

They did so Monday, early on at least, with Martin at the top of the lineup. That’s where he’s going to be for the foreseeable future, trying to get the Rangers’ offense in rhythm.

“That’s why he’s back in the same spot,” Banister said. “I feel confident that our guys will find that rhythm and find that timing. We’ll get to that point.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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