Mariners Insider Blog

Martin looking for the right fit in his game — hint: it’s not a sombrero

Leonys Martin is willing to sacrifice his power output this season in order to boost his on-base percentage.
Leonys Martin is willing to sacrifice his power output this season in order to boost his on-base percentage. AP

You’ve likely seen the clips. The mariachi band that followed Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin around Monday on his 29th birthday won’t soon be forgotten.

The quartet Mariachi Phoenix shadowed Martin throughout the workout and even afterward into the clubhouse, and it provided a much-needed boost. Martin willingly donned a sombrero through it all.

It’s been a tough stretch for Martin, an emotional player who doesn’t easily hide his feelings. He’s less than a month removed from testifying in federal court regarding the harrowing details of his 2010 defection from Cuba.

His family is in Miami, and Martin anticipated a quiet birthday with some friends.

Oh, no.

Manager Scott Servais with the help of Jack Mosimann, the club’s director of Major League operations, cooked up the idea of the mariachi serenade and got third baseman Kyle Seager to underwrite the cost.

It was perfect.

"This is something I will never forget in my life," Martin said. "It means a lot to me."

And now, his smile reinforced, Martin returns to his spring goal of changing his swing "to fit my game."

No sombrero. And less pop.

"I want to get better," he said. "It was good that I hit (a career-high) 15 homers, but that’s not part of my game. I want to do better. I want to stay focused on my at-bats. I have to remember what kind of player I am. Play my game."

That means…what?

"Try to get my on-base percentage a little bit higher," he said. "Try to steal 30 or 40 bases. Get on base. Try to create rallies and score runs. That’s my game. I don’t need to think about homers. That’s not my game."

Martin resurrected his career last season with the Mariners after it seemed to hit a dead end in Texas. His primary contribution was steady (and often spectacular) defense. At the plate, there were those 15 homers, but he was notoriously streaky.

That led to an offseason trip from his Miami home to the Dominican Republic in order to work with teammate Robinson Cano. The transformation continues this spring under the eye of hitting coach Edgar Martinez.

"I’m still learning about hitting," Martin said, "but it’s coming. It’s a process."

And it’s not all technical tweaks.

"With Leonys," Servais said, "it comes from controlling his emotions. Can he slow it down enough to have a good at-bat and not get so far out ahead that he’s worried about the result?"

That effort to slow Martin’s aggressiveness led to a new stance at the plate. He starts with his hands lower as a timing device.

"It’s not really where you start," Servais said. "It’s where you’re at when your foot gets down and you’re at the hitting position. He’s starting lower, but he’s still bringing his hands up. So he’s getting into a good position.

"Edgar has been talking a lot with him — actually took some still shots off video the other day. You can see that when his foot gets down, he’s in a really good spot."

Martin has it down to a catechism.

"Control your swing," he said. "Don’t try to be too aggressive at home plate."

It remains a work in progress — but it’s a long spring. The season opener on April 3 in Houston is still three-plus weeks away.

"When you’re doing something a little different," Servais said, "you’re off-kilter. He wants to play every day because he thinks that’s what is best for him. But we’ll still give him the one day on, one day off at this point."

Martin admits he’s impatient but, after a year in the Pacific Northwest, believes his best years are yet to come.

"Now, I know the ballpark," he said. "I know the fans, and I know the team. I’m preparing my body to play 162 games in the regular season. I’m ready. I’m feeling really strong.

"And our team? Oh, my gosh. I think we’ve got everything. We’ve got power. We’ve got speed. We’ve got good starting pitching. We’ve got good fans. I think we can do it."

Martin stopped, caught his breath and smiled.

"I’ve just got to play my game," he said. "But it helps, man, when you go out there and know you have a great chance to make the playoffs."

That would beat the band.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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