- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
NEW YORK -- Russell Martin could've picked an easier place to try coming back from two injury-marred seasons than New York, on a one-year deal, as the outsider who replaced Jorge Posada as the Yankees' everyday catcher -- the first changing-of-the-guard move by one of the Yankees' Core Four that wasn't voluntary.
And Posada, given his place in Yankees' history, could've made more noise about resisting his shuffling into a full-time designated hitter when the Yankees gave him the news over the winter. Forget that it was the right decision. Had Posada griped that he at least deserved the chance to lose the everyday catching job in spring training, he probably would've found some backers for nostalgia's sake, if nothing else.
So if you're looking for the best takeaway from the Yankees' season-opening series against the Detroit Tigers that ended Sunday, beyond their 2-1 record, look past Mark Teixeira's unusually torrid hitting, or the way starting pitcher Phil Hughes' mediocre performance in Sunday's series finale -- a 10-7 Yankees' loss -- was at least offset by the two previous solid starts the Yankees got from CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
The way Martin and Posada have so far slid into their new roles is the best news the Yankees have gotten so far. The transition is harder than both players have made it look.
"I wouldn't say [being a full-time DH] feels 'comfortable' yet. It still feels new," Posada insisted after sandwiching two towering home runs around a third-inning double to finish with four RBIs on Sunday. "At the end of the day, my job now is all about my four at-bats. But I'm still here," Posada added with a smile.
Martin is playing like he's been here forever. He's already earned praise for the way he's handling the Yankees' pitching staff and he went 3-for-4 Sunday to raise his average to .455, the best among the Yankees' everyday players.
Moves like publicly talking the blame for calling a cutter to the Tigers' Brennan Boesch, which resulted in a loud home run, will only endear Martin to his staff even more. It wasn't like Martin actually threw Bartolo Colon's pitch.
Neither Posada, Martin nor anyone else wants to make too much of anything they've done so far. But given the attention on them and their importance to the team, had either of them gotten off to a thudding start, what was being said about them by today could've easily compared to the yelping that was going on before Boston's game Sunday. One early-afternoon headline out of Beantown read, "Panic time for Red Sox," because Carl Crawford, Boston's splashiest offseason signing, was dropped to seventh in the order after just two games because Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "Just looking at him, it's kind of obvious he's trying too hard."
Posada can sometimes be guilty of the same thing. Yankees manager Joe Girardi talked a lot in spring training, and again Sunday, about the challenges any full-time DH faces, but especially catchers who are used to being involved in every pitch of the game.
"Do they analyze each at-bat too much?" Girardi said. "If they do that, then you could see it becoming a problem. I think it is important that they find things to do with their mind in between. We have talked a little bit with Jorge about it. For Jorge, I would almost recommend he almost call pitches and watch the opposing hitters, like he was going to catch the next day."
Posada admitted he does do some of that, as well as some talking with Martin between innings, some riding on the stationary bike and some hitting in the cage beneath the stands to keep loose. He no longer talks about how he "hates" DHing, the way he did when he was still a catcher. But he doesn't rhapsodize about the new job yet, either.
"It's just three games, so I don't know if you can say I'm locked in, you know," Posada said. "Whatever happens now in each at-bat, I just put it behind me and look ahead to the next one."
The Yankees' decision to force Posada into the position switch was the right one, of course. Besides being 40 and in the last year of his contract, with several young catching prospects in the pipeline behind him, Posada was among the worst catchers in the majors last year at throwing out base stealers; Martin's percentage with the Dodgers' was two times better. Posada also understandably needs more rest at his age to remain healthy or avoid being worn down.
So the combination of having a healthier, fresher Posada in the lineup as a hitter all season, and a better defensive catcher behind the plate in Martin was a no-brainer for the Yankees from a baseball standpoint. The delicate part was, of course, managing Posada's emotions about the move. You can tell just how delicate the Yankees saw it by how aggressively they have tried to manage every bit of the transition.
It started with the way they announced the move way back in December just to get all the chatter over with by spring training, and then the way they've remained absolutely adamant that Posada won't return to catching at all -- not even now that Francisco Cervelli broke his foot, prospect Jesus Montero failed to make the team out of spring training and Gustavo Molina has a batting average you usually associate with a National League pitcher.
If Martin knew Posada's past contempt for DHing, he didn't let that affect him when he chose the Yankees. Martin said: "In my mind when I was thinking about Jorge, I tried to put myself in his position and, you know, I actually thought DH is a really good spot for him. When you're a catcher and you've caught your whole career, and then you have the luxury of being fresh for a long period of time in the season, I didn't really feel 'bad' about coming here as much as I felt like maybe I could be helping him."
But what about being the new guy replacing a beloved guy?
Martin says he was aware of it, but, "I like to compete -- I like this environment. I've always been that way. I like pressure situations. So I'm not going to shy away from pressure."
It's early. But so far, so good.
22mAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com
6hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com