PITTSBURGH -- Though nobody hands out trophies for accomplishments through half a season, the consensus in the Pirates' clubhouse is that Russell Martin could be the team's most important piece so far -- the glue that holds the pitching and defense together -- and he has contributed plenty with the bat, as well.
The club signed Martin to a two-year, $17 million deal last November, and he's helped the Pirates pitching staff become one of baseball's best, despite some critical setbacks.
Of the five pitchers the Pirates broke camp with in late March, only one, Jeff Locke, is currently in the rotation. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald are still dealing with various injuries, but Pittsburgh still has the best team ERA (3.17) and opponents' batting average (.227) in baseball, and is fifth in WHIP (1.21).
The Pirates new catcher -- a Gold Glove Award winner, Silver Slugger Award winner and All-Star in both leagues -- has something to do with that, surely.
"That's being echoed from visiting dugouts as well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's bringing an edge to everything he's doing. Not only behind the plate, but in the batter's box, on the bases, in the clubhouse, in meetings. He's got layers to him with postseason experience, the staffs he's been able to be a part of, the cities ... he's got some levels of toughness and experience that have been very useful in our clubhouse."
Martin has caught 11 different starting pitchers this season, but the status quo remains the same. He's caught Cy Young Award winners and learned the craft of calling games and managing pitchers day by day throughout his eight-year career.
And even with the large turnover in the rotation due to injury, Martin's mindset and approach doesn't change. He just needs to communicate effectively with his pitchers.
"The more you understand your pitchers, the better you're going to be," Martin said. "Also, I have to say, you're only as good as the execution of your pitching. So if your pitcher's not executing pitches, it doesn't matter what you call. They go hand in hand."
The pitchers have executed, and Martin has helped foster that. The Pirates hope it doesn't stop now.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.