BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin already has a world-class reputation for framing pitches, and with Mike LaValliere's help is working on becoming even better at earning strikes for his pitchers.
Despite being unable to throw due to some shoulder soreness, Martin has been in the laboratory of the former Pirates catcher, in camp on manager Clint Hurdle's invitation as a special instructor. "Spanky" stands about 15 feet away and tosses balls to Martin into various quadrants of an imaginary strike zone.
Martin has to react quickly to grab each offering in his bare hand. Besides adding quickness, the drill is intended to get Martin accustomed to "giving" with the pitch -- hence the barehanded approach, as one would in an egg-catching contest -- to grab it in a good spot for the umpire to see it as a strike.
"We have so many guys on this staff with great overhand curveballs, where you catch them makes a big difference in what it gets called," LaValliere said. "This teaches you to catch the pitch on a good plane."
Speaking of catching, Martin's work habits are also contagious. Michael McKenry, the Bucs' No. 2 receiver, has made a point of asking LaValliere to put him through the same drills done by Martin.
"He wants to know how Russ does it, and wants to follow that path," LaValliere said.