So many thoughts flooded Leonys Martin’s mind. He had been designated for assignment, batting an abysmal .111 through 54 at-bats with one extra-base hit.
One thought spoke loudest:
“Like whether I should go home and not play anymore,” the 29-year-old center fielder said.
You wouldn’t assume his struggle by his clubhouse demeanor. Martin is a favorite — loquacious with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm.
But his batting average plummeted from .247 with 15 home runs, 47 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 143 games for the Mariners last year to a career-worst — so anemic that Seattle couldn’t afford to keep him in the lineup, even with his outstanding glove.
He cleared waivers — no teams wanted to take on his one-year, $4.8 million contract — and went to Tacoma to try to find himself.
“When I got here, I always thought about too much stuff,” Martin said. “It was hard for me to concentrate in the games and focus.”
Now, after 37 games with the Rainiers?
“It’s completely different,” he said, with a smile.
Tacoma Rainiers manager Pat Litsach was more matter-of-fact.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Leonys in the big leagues again this summer,” he said.
Martin extended his hitting streak to five games on Monday, pushing his batting average to .280. Entering Monday’s game against the Reno Aces, he led the Rainiers with eight stolen bases, too.
Martin made the decision to alter his batting stance and swing, lowering his hands in spring training, he said. Plus, he arrived late to spring training because he was testifying in a federal trial in Miami of two men who were charged with conspiracy and alien smuggling. They transported Martin from Cuba to Mexico.
But more than mechanics, Martin said he is now focusing on finding his confidence and being consistent.
Listach still wants Martin to lay off the high pitches. He didn’t want to talk about specific changes to Martin’s swing, but he did say that what Martin’s been doing appears to be paying off.
“He’s really playing well,” Listach said. “He hits the ball hard. For a leadoff guy, he hits the ball harder than anybody in this league, I’ll tell you that.
“He had a little stretch of three or four games when he wasn’t consistent, but for the most part when he’s been here he’s been good. When he swings at the high pitch he doesn’t have as much success. So for him, one of the things has been him laying off the high pitch and just getting good at-bats. That’s the thing — productive at-bats. That’s all we want him to do.”
His presence in the Rainiers’ clubhouse has been just as effective.
Entering Monday — two months in — the Rainiers had made 136 transactions, including adding Martin, since the season began. They made 176 transactions all of last year. But Martin has been a veteran voice — a constant one — in a clubhouse with many revolving young, quiet faces.
“He’s the guy always talking — sometimes a little bit too much,” Listach laughed. “He keeps everything interesting around here because we have some quiet guys on this team and he won’t let you be quiet. No doubt about it, the energy level he brings every day is contagious.”
And that part of him, Martin said, was never difficult.
“That’s me,” Martin laughed. “As soon as I put my uniform on, I’m good to compete. Just be who I am — go out there and have fun and don’t think too much.”
He’ll be playing alongside Felix Hernandez at Cheney Stadium on Tuesday. Martin said his good friend was one of the many who reached out to him after his demotion, offering encouragement.
“I’m a lucky guy. I have a lot of people on my side, always giving me good advice about this game,” he said. “It was another tough moment in my life and my career, but I’m going to look forward and keep going. I’m doing what I love to do and I still have the same passion for this game.
“If they (Seattle) call me tomorrow, if they call me in September, I don’t care. I just want to go out there and get a win for this team. That’s all I got in my mind now. If they call me up, I’ll feel pretty good. If not, I’ll be with my boys here and play hard.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677