PRO BASEBALL

Drew Martinez excelling in new role in lineup, on RailCats field

2014-06-10T20:00:00Z 2014-06-11T00:34:07Z Drew Martinez excelling in new role in lineup, on RailCats fieldHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

GARY | After his first game in right field, Drew Martinez sent a text to Mike Massaro.

The current RailCats outfielder was calling up the retired veteran for some advice.

"He said, ‘Calm down; it’s your first game, don’t worry about the day before, you’ll be fine,’ " Martinez said. "More practice and taking more game reads in BP, it came more naturally to me."

Learning right field, Martinez said he's also called his father, Chito Martinez, who played three seasons in right field for the Baltimore Orioles.

"It’s nice to have two people in my corner who played right field, two people who are helping me out," Martinez said.

Martinez was asked to take Massaro's place in more than one situation. The left-handed hitter was not only put in right field, he took Massaro's No. 2 hole in the batting order.

Doing so has helped Martinez succeed in the RailCats early season in ways he hasn't in the past. He leads the team with a .367 average in 98 at-bats. Following leadoff hitter Danny Pulfer, Martinez also leads the team in RBIs with 22.

On Monday, Martinez hit the second home run of his career and the first of the season when he led off the third inning with a solo bomb over the right-field seats.

Ironically, Martinez is rarely counted on for his power and, in preseason probabilities, he wasn't expected to hit second in the lineup.

"When I drew up some of these lineups in the offseason ... my idea on the two spot was Ryan Brockett," manager Greg Tagert said. "When Ryan went down and we made an adjustment, looking for someone and we were so left-handed heavy and we didn’t have (Justin) Gominsky, we decided Drew from an offensive standpoint gave us the closest thing similar to Mike in what he can do at the plate.

"Drew offers us a little bit of (bunting ability), but I’ll tell you along with Danny, they were so good with us last year, but you never know with two dominant players like Massaro and Klein, is a guy later in the order really being himself. But Danny and Drew have really forged."

Martinez said that he's taken advantage of the better pitches he sees at the top of the lineup.

Last season, he hit .294 from somewhere near the bottom. His 36 hits so far this season put him on pace to surpass last year's 95 by 48 hits.

"I’m being more aggressive this year and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few things go my way," Martinez said. "Following a guy like Massaro, who has been here for years and years, and succeeded for years, it’s hard to follow in those footsteps. He was a great outfielder and a great hitter, and I’ve had the chance to talk to him a little bit and he’s helped me all around, hitting and in the outfield as well.

"It’s been fun. I love the two-hole, you get a wide variety of things open to do: you can bunt, you can hit, you can take pitches or be aggressive. To me, it’s my spot to be at."

Brockett is slated to return from his wrist injury this week or next, but he won't take over Martinez's spot in the lineup, Tagert said.

"Drew has just been tremendous and continues to make adjustments he’ll need to have success and maintain success at a level he wants to," Tagert said.

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