Russell Martin Believes Blue Jays Can Win Again
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Russell Martin can admit it now, one year later, that he wasn’t so sure about the Blue Jays last spring when he left Florida to head to Montreal.
He thought the roster lacked depth. He thought there were too many unproven kids on the team. He wasn’t sure about the starting pitching and the team’s defence, and was less certain about an unsettled bullpen.
And he did his best to let no one know what he was feeling inside.
“I guess, being honest, last year there was a lot of question marks,” said Martin from the Blue Jays clubhouse in Dunedin. “How were certain players going to respond? We had a lot of guys with very little experience. How would they respond? The baseball season is a mental exercise as much as anything else. It’s a gruelling process. I wasn’t sure how we were going to make out.”
He feels differently now as he sat and packed equipment into a travel bag. There is an internal excitement about this Blue Jays team that hasn’t been around this clubhouse in years. There is a belief, a feeling — a trust, even — that last year was just a starting point for the Blue Jays and this year, the team is ready to win.
Last year, in his words, he thought winning was possible. Maybe. This year, he knows it’s a lot more than that.
“We know because we’ve done it,” said Martin. “It’s a mindset. Once you’ve been through it and had success together, you build confidence together. You have to show up every day with the mindset that you’re going to win that day. Obviously, it doesn’t happen every time. But you have to expect to win every day.
“You have to play the right way, competing every single pitch, learning from your mistakes. I feel we have a dedicated group willing to pay the price. It’s not one guy. It’s everybody. You have to be resilient. You have to be tough. Veterans, young guys, everyone. Last year was a process of becoming who we want to become. We know we’re better. Now we know what we have and have to take advantage of it.”
The Blue Jays offence is almost a given. Everybody in baseball sees the power and depth of their lineup. The Blue Jays pitching, that’s where there are questions, just not necessarily from the man behind the plate who thinks this staff is significantly deeper than it was a year ago.
“We didn’t have (Martin) Stroman for most of the season,” said Martin. “We get him and (Aaron) Sanchez from the start, and Sanchez is a different pitcher than he was a year ago.
“Stroman reminds me of Pedro Martinez. A small guy with an electric arm. And with that competitive nature and tremendous confidence. And Sanchez had one over-powering pitch last year. Right now, his curveball is better, his change-up is better. These guys are progressing and they’re not satisfied with what they are now, they expect to get better.
“You want to talk about the depth in the rotation. Really, you could make a major-league rotation from the guys who were fighting for the fifth spot (Sanchez, Gavin Floyd, Jesse Chavez, Drew Hutchison and Joe Biagini) … That’s a good problem to have.”
And Martin isn’t sure what happened first: Did the Blue Jays start pitching better in the second half because the team’s defence improved dramatically with the acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere? Or did the pitching begin to improve before the defence changed?
“Strength up the middle,” said Martin. “You don’t get more sure-handed than Tulo and Go-Go (Ryan Goins). And it helps when you have Superman (Kevin Pillar) in centre field. Defence is an aspect of the game people don’t talk a lot about. It doesn’t get headlines. Maybe it gets overshadowed by the big hitters, but you still have to get 27 outs in baseball. And if you have great defence, it sure helps.”
That strength up the middle includes Martin behind the plate, who is a master game-caller and pitch framer with great numbers throwing runners out at second base.
“I like our defence. I like our bats. I like our pitching. I like our depth,” said Martin. “We have a Gold Glover like (Darwin) Barney on the bench. We have three guys at first base who can hit in the middle of an order. If you want to play matchups, we can play matchups.”
And he likes the approach the new management team has taken to off-field training. “In the training room, we’re more sport-specific,” said Martin. “There seems to be a connection from the weight room to the training room to management, more communication, more structure, it’s different. They’re looking for an edge in how we train, how we prepare, how we eat.”
There was no edge in leaving Florida for Montreal on Thursday, returning to Florida on Saturday to start the season on Sunday afternoon. That was a scheduling mishap dictated by television.
Now it’s almost time to play ball. The believer, Russell Martin, was ready yesterday.