TORONTO – The nerve issues in Russell Martin’s left shoulder that landed the Toronto Blue Jays catcher on the disabled list Monday started in spring training, when he experienced weakness in his glove hand. He was using a heavier mitt and wondered if that was the cause, so he switched to a lighter model. Along with some rest, treatment and a visit with a specialist he knows in Muscle Activation Technique, aimed at identifying and countering neuromuscular imbalances, Martin felt he had a handle on things.
But as the toll of the season started mounting, the issues started returning. A collision at home plate with Tim Beckham in the second inning of a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on April 29 jarred Martin’s neck and exacerbated things. Forget catching, the simple act of turning the steering wheel of his car with his left arm was work. It felt like a dentist had injected his left shoulder with novocaine. Behind the plate, Martin adjusted the way he received certain pitches in order to minimize his arm movement, preventing him from presenting the ball the way he can. When he noticed himself getting mad at pitchers for missing spots and forcing him to reach for the ball, it struck him how bad things had gotten.
“The more the volume increased, the harder it felt to keep the shoulder feeling good,” Martin said in the Blue Jays clubhouse Monday. “After the incident with the contact at the plate, it was back to square one where my glove, with time as the game progressed, would feel heavier and heavier as the game went on. It’s hard to explain. It was feeling like a strength issue. It has nothing to do with pain at all. …
“I’m used to dealing with pain and battling through pain,” he added later. “It’s something like you have a lack of feeling, a lack of strength issue that’s something I don’t know much about. I physically have a hard time doing some things I’ve never had trouble dealing with before.”
All those things together meant Martin didn’t resist the idea of a stint on the disabled list. The doctors who have seen him say rest is key and that even four or five days can make a major difference with the two issues he’s struggling with, an impingement of the nerve in his shoulder as well a neck issue.
As a result, “there are two issues not allowing the nerve to send that pulse, that energy to that area,” Martin explained. “There’s like a numbness. The whole shoulder region feels weak and numb a little bit. There’s no pain in the neck. Sometimes I do feel a little bit of pulling in the front, where the pec is a little bit. It’s strange, it’s a little bit scary, but hopefully in a few days it’s past me.”
In the interim, his absence will compound problems for the Blue Jays, who are already without Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ. They selected the contract of catcher Mike Ohlman from triple-A Buffalo to join backup Luke Maile and designated right-hander Casey Lawrence for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Ohlamn impressed with his pop during spring training, when he slashed .259/.310/.630 with three homers, seven RBIs, two walks and nine strikeouts in 27 at-bats.
“I like the way he caught the ball – I really liked the way he swung the bat,” said manager John Gibbons. “Big dude, big strong guy … looks like he can hit. As far as catching the ball, I thought he did a nice job down there. He’s a big dude, so it’s tougher on those guys mobility-wise, but I thought he looked better than I probably anticipated. And here’s his break, you know? You sign guys as minor-league free agents, you don’t always anticipate they’re going to get a shot, but you give a guy an opportunity and who knows what happens?”
The Blue Jays, of course, have been giving plenty of people opportunities as they struggle through injuries to several of their most important players. Martin plans to be around, trying to find ways to contribute as he convalesces from an issue he’s still trying to wrap his mind around.
The prescription, for now at least, is to do nothing.
“They say it’s more of a rest thing,” said Martin. “When it comes to nerves, they say you can easily over-treat them, so right now they want to keep me from doing too much. I can do other things. I can work on my throwing arm, I can keep moving and I definitely want to keep my mind in tune with the game because I’m a gamer, man, I want to be involved. I don’t need mental days off. I’m going to keep helping the team any way I can. Physically, I’m not capable of doing that right now.”