Russell Martin Is Taking One for the Team, Not Letting Injuries Stop Him

Phil GardnerContributor IIIJune 20, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18: Carlos Pena # 22 of the Chicago Cubs is tagged out at home by Russell Martin #55 of the New York Yankees on June 18, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

Growing up playing hockey in Canada, Russell Martin had to deal with injuries and play through to keep in the game. He’s carried that same mentality into this season with the Yankees.

Whether it’s broken toes, back ailments, getting run over at the plate or taking a bat to the side of the head, Russell has played through a multitude of minor injuries this season and has been a staple in the Yankees batting order.

It’s been most surprising given the battles he had staying healthy for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He missed the final two months of the season last year with a hip injury and was not even offered a contract for this season.

After being non tendered by the Dodgers, he signed with the Yankees looking to prove himself and show that he’s still a very good MLB catcher. He got off to a lightning start batting .293 with six home runs for April, but has since slowed down.

Most importantly for the Yankees, he’s been healthy enough to remain in the starting lineup.

The last few seasons, the Yankees have found themselves lacking behind the plate. Jorge Posada and his 15 percent throw-out rate for prospective base stealers ranked at half of the MLB average of 30 percent last season. He’s also come under scrutiny for how he handles pitchers like A.J. Burnett, but mostly is just showing the effects of being 39 years old and having caught his entire career.

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The other alternative has been Francisco Cervelli, a light hitting catcher who has been more exposed with each additional season in the big leagues. Whether it’s the fact he can’t properly frame a pitch, or he is even worse than Posada at throwing out runners (just 10 percent this season) he has not been the answer for the Yankees.

Making matters worse for the Yankees this season, Cervelli began the year on the DL with a broken wrist, and Posada has been deemed “not to be catching” by the team due to his concussion history. That removed the two catchers the Yankees have used the most since 2009.

Russell Martin needed to come up big and stay in the lineup.

He did just that. There was only one game in April that he didn’t play, and opening day backup catcher Gustavo Molina was sent back to the minors after only starting two games. The rest of those were caught by Martin. It hasn’t been easy behind the plate for him, but still he’s been out there every day.

A few weeks ago he fouled a ball off his foot. Thinking it may be a broken toe, he was sent for an MRI. The results made virtually no difference as it was already decided he would play through the injury regardless. When the backup is Cervelli, it’s important to remain in the lineup.

Just last week he was fighting some lower back stiffness and had to miss several games waiting for it to clear up. When it did, he was greeted by Cubs base runner Carlos Pena colliding with him at the plate. Not only did he hold onto the ball, he later joked that the collision helped to loosen up his back and make him feel better than he had before.

Last night’s game saw him get cracked in the side of the head by a bat during the batter’s follow through. He was seen in the dugout throughout the game with an ice pack on the side of his face, and was sporting a visible goose egg near his sideburn later in the game. Still, he didn’t come out.

Part of it is being a Canadian hockey kid, part of it is being a catcher, and part of it is having something to prove about being healthy. Whatever it is for Russell, it’s exactly what the Yankees have needed. Regardless of what his batting average is, just by being in the lineup it’s an improvement to the Yankees roster, and a definite upgrade defensively.

Russell was an all-star for the Dodgers, and he is still a very good defensive catcher. He brings experience and he still has one of the best throw out rates in the Majors.

Most importantly, Russell is going out there game after game until the Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero is ready for the show.