Martin ready to help Bucs in two ways

During the final six weeks of the 2012 season, when it started to become increasingly apparent that the Pittsburgh Pirates were headed for their 20th non-playoff year in a row, something else became glaringly obvious as well.

The Pirates began to fall behind earlier in games, and they had little or no ability to stop opposing teams’ running attacks.

Catchers and pitchers were equally at fault, but veteran catcher Rod Barajas’ woeful six-percent average at throwing out opposing baserunners was particularly troubling – enough so that the Pirates didn’t pick up the option year on Barajas’ contract this past offseason.

The free agent that they signed to replace Barajas is three-time Major League Baseball All-Star Russell Martin, who insists that he plans on helping the 2013 Pirates both at the plate and behind it.

Martin threw out 24 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him last year when he was a member of the New York Yankees.

“I’ve always been pretty good at throwing runners out,” Martin said before the Pirates’ recent exhibition game with the Altoona Curve at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “But I think the biggest problem this [Pirates] team had last year was that toward the end of the year, other teams were scoring more runs than them. So I’m here to help us with scoring more runs as well as with helping us to keep [opposing] teams from scoring runs.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is quite confident that Martin – who hit a career-high 21 home runs for the Yankees last season – will provide a boost for the Bucs both offensively and defensively.

“He’ll be a significant contributor in both areas,” Hurdle said. “Offensively, we figure that he’s going to be a run-producer wherever he hits in the lineup. And he’s fast enough that when he gets on base, he can make things happen. Defensively, his arm strength – plus the improvements that our pitchers must be accountable for in holding runners on base – will put us way ahead of where we were last season with stopping the other team’s running game. At times, we were very bad in that area last year.”

Martin, 30, also brings a certain positive energy to the Pirates’ clubhouse that comes from his experience with being a member of five playoff teams – two with the American League’s Yankees and three with the National League’s Los Angeles Dodgers – in his seven big-league seasons to date.

“He’s a great addition,” third baseman Pedro Alvarez said. “He’s great with the pitchers, and he’s a great guy to have on the team.”

The fit between the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Martin – a lifelong Canadian who was born in Ontario and now lives in the Montreal area – and the Pirates seems to be a positive one on both sides.

After the Bucs broke spring camp in Bradenton, Fla. last week, Martin spent his first full day getting acquainted with his new digs in Pittsburgh, and liked his initial impression.

“Pittsburgh actually reminds me of Montreal,” Martin said. “Montreal is an older city, and Pittsburgh has that same kind of feel to it. Pittsburgh has a smaller-town type feel and a hard-working type of environment. I walked around the city [last] Friday and felt right at home.”

And he’s thrilled to become a part of a Pirates team that he believes will stick to the daily grind all season.

“I’m happy, excited, and ready to take on the challenge,” he said. “I really like the team that we have. I feel like it’s made up of plenty of quality people and competitors who are willing to go out and give their best every day.”