Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez is a natural hitter, whose career batting average stands at .301. He hit that mark exactly last year while clouting 25 homers and accounting for 114 RBIs.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - A leaner, more muscular Victor Martinez stepped into the batter's box yesterday morning on one of the back fields at Chain of Lakes Park.
Martinez, who dropped about 10 pounds and added muscle to his upper body in the offseason, stepped into the left side of the box and effortlessly sprayed line drives all over the field. A few minutes later the catcher dug into the right side and did the same thing.
Martinez's swing has certainly never been out of shape.
"What he has, you either have it or you don't," Indians hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "You can't teach it."
It's easy to see why Martinez is every hitting coach's dream. Last season, he hit .301 with 25 homers and 114 RBIs.
Shelton marvels at Martinez's instincts at the plate.
"He allows his hands to stay back so he can get into the path of the ball," Shelton said. "He has an unbelievable feel for the barrel [of the bat].
"He never gets in an off-balance position because his hands are so good."
Martinez, whose career average also stands at .301, isn't ready to rest on his accomplishments.
"I know I can get better," he said. "That's what I try to do. I know I can always improve every year."
In 2007, Martinez batted .307 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs as a right-handed hitter while hitting .289 with seven homers and 34 RBIs from the left side. He was named to the American League All-Star team for the second time.
Shelton believes switch-hitting is harder that most people realize.
"You could go a few days without seeing a lefty and all of a sudden you're facing a good one with the game on the line," Shelton said. "That's a tough situation, but Victor adjusts to it very well."
Then there's also that little matter of handling the rigors of catching and running a pitching staff.
"You have to be mentally tough to do all the things he does," Shelton said.
The Indians were pleased that Martinez dropped some weight in the offseason.
"We didn't have to suggest it," manager Eric Wedge said. "He did it on his own."
Martinez appeared in 121 games behind the plate and 30 at first base last season. He'll be on roughly the same schedule this season.
NOTES: In his first session of throwing batting practice yesterday, Japanese RHP Masa Kobayashi broke 2B Josh Barfield's bat. Barfield presented the bat to the pitcher in the clubhouse after the workout. Pitching coach Carl Willis said Kobayashi will throw batting practice again tomorrow and will pitch in an intrasquad game Wednesday. ... Willis said RHP Adam Miller (blister on middle finger) will throw a bullpen session tomorrow and might throw batting practice Tuesday. Willis said Miller hasn't been bothered by the strained tendon in the finger that sidelined the pitcher for part of last season ... RHP Jorge Julio, who finally arrived in camp after having visa problems, threw in the bullpen for 10 minutes yesterday. ... The Indians will play intrasquad games Tuesday and Wednesday. The first exhibition game will be Thursday against Houston in Winter Haven.