Blue Jays’ Martin: ‘I just try to embellish’


Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (Nathan Denette/CP)

In this final instalment of Sportsnet magazine’s interview with Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, the 32-year-old talks about what it’s like to pick off runners, and explains the art of pitch-framing.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

What’s it like to pick off a runner?
Throwing any runner out is fun, but it’s the ones who have supreme speed, the base stealers—seeing their faces after they get thrown out is the best. They always think they’re safe. They’re standing on the bag like this [Martin’s arms are up], they’re looking around, like, “Let’s check the replay!” Dude, you’re out. Go grab some pine, bud.

Who’s the best guy to catch stealing?
Billy Hamilton. He’s so fast. This year in the American League, I can’t think of anybody like Hamilton. The running game’s slowed down; guys don’t steal as much.

When a batter comes up, what are all the things you consider before you make a call?
I don’t overcomplicate things. My mindset is: I’m going to be aggressive, we’re going to try to attack whoever’s up there, try to get strike one. And from there, it’s mostly memory. Remembering what the guy did his previous at-bat. For the most part, we’ve been playing with the lead, so we just attack hitters and keep the defence on their toes.

There’s a lot of talk about your pitch-framing. Is that a kind of deception, making a near-strike look like a strike?
I don’t see it that way. I just try to embellish.

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That’s a better word.
Yeah, deception sounds like I’m trying to trick somebody. I’m really not. I’m trying to display the pitch as appropriately as I can for the umpire to have the best look possible. It’s all about funnelling. I try to funnel the ball back, because if you don’t, the opposite can happen: You take the ball away from the strike zone. If you catch the ball and you go with its trajectory, sometimes you can pull it away from the strike zone. I’m not necessarily trying to get balls called strikes. But if I get one, I’m not gonna be mad, right?

You and Dioner Navarro played together earlier in your careers. What’s that relationship like? I imagine it’s competitive.
No, we’re really good buds, actually. He’s awesome. Me and Navy get along. He loves soccer, I like to play soccer, so right off the bat at spring training we were kicking the ball around, and it kind of set the tone for our relationship.

Do you have a clubhouse nickname?
Maybe “Muscle.”

“Russell”? That’s not a nickname.
No, “Muscle.” And Price calls me “Lava Rock.”

Why “Lava Rock”?
 Beause I’m a rock, and he says, “You’re about to get really hot, like lava.”

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