Leonys Martin doesn’t behave like a player who has fallen short of expectations this season.
He laughs and jokes around in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse as much any other player.
That’s a good sign for the player and the club.
Injuries in the outfield have given Martin regular playing time in center field again, and his confidence is going back up after he saw his playing time slip away last month.
Opportunity is knocking for Martin, and he’s going to keep starting as he did for the 15th straight game Thursday at Dodger Stadium. It’s up to him to find a way to keep that role once the injured outfielders start returning to health.
“I’m trying to be better after my slow start,” Martin said. “I feel like day by day I have my confidence again. I feel really good.”
Martin opened the season as the leadoff hitter, and performed about as well as anybody else not named Prince Fielder in the first month. But Martin hurt his wrist in early May and wasn’t confident at the plate after missing a handful of games.
Then, rookie Delino DeShields emerged as a must-have in the lineup, costing Martin playing time. When he did play, he was no longer batting first, but rather in the bottom third of the lineup.
“Delino did a really good job,” Martin said. “He did what we needed at that time in the lineup. I was pretty happy about it.”
Martin said that his struggles stemmed from a sprained left wrist, suffered May 4 as he dove for a ball in center field at Houston. Until about two weeks ago, the wrist hurt on swings and if he banged it against something, as he did on the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
The pain has subsided, and Martin was batting .317 in his past 18 games entering Thursday despite riding an 0-for-11 skid, all in interleague games against pitchers he doesn’t know well.
Martin batted .236 in April and just .209 in May.
“When you go to home plate you think about it [the wrist], and I didn’t want to get hurt again,” Martin said. “A couple weeks ago it started feeling good. I’m really happy.”
The Rangers have always wanted Martin to have better at-bats. That doesn’t necessarily equate to taking walks but understanding the strike zone, swinging at his pitches and not chasing out of the strike zone.
When he does that, as he did in September to earn the club’s confidence to be the leadoff man this season, he is a quality all-around player who can steal bases and be a difference-maker defensively.
Teams know not to run on his arm, but he still ranks fourth in the league with six outfield assists.
“It’s just competitive at-bats,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’d like for him to string at-bats together. I still think, in the end, Leonys possesses all those qualities to be a leadoff hitter. But you’ve got to be able to string them together to be consistent with them.”
Martin likely won’t be at the top of the Rangers’ lineup anytime soon, but he will be allowed to find a groove as DeShields sits out with a strained left hamstring. The same injury felled Josh Hamilton, and Kyle Blanks is on the disabled list again, too.
The Rangers’ healthy outfielders are Martin, Shin-Soo Choo and Jake Smolinski. So thin are the Rangers that third baseman Joey Gallo made his third start of the week in left field Thursday.
Ryan Rua could return soon, and Hamilton might start a rehab assignment next week. Martin, though, is going to keep playing and keep trying to rescue a season that he described as so-so.
Opportunity is knocking.
“Not too bad, not too good, but we’re winning games and we’re in the top of the division, almost at the top,” Martin said. “I’m trying to enjoy day to day and every single game. At the end of the day, if we win the ballgame, winning cures everything.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760