Martinez warms to the task of filling Orsulak void


When Chito Martinez became the final player to hit a home run at Memorial Stadium last Oct. 5, it wasn't the harbinger he hoped it would be.

It was his 13th home run in a half season after being recalled from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, giving him reason to hope the momentum would carry into this season.

It didn't.

Unable to regain his batting stroke, Martinez shared time with Joe Orsulak and David Segui in right field.

Orsulak's bat soon became hot, and when he sprained his left thumb 11 days ago in Kansas City, he was batting .307.

"Chito's lack of playing time was because of the way the other guy was playing," manager Johnny Oates said of Orsulak, who is scheduled to return from the disabled list on Monday. "The way Chito is playing now, this is what he's supposed to do. Even when you're on the bench, you've got to stay ready, just in case."

Through Aug. 15, Martinez was batting .231, with four home runs and 20 RBI. They are paltry figures by a man who, in a half season last year, batted .269 with 13 homers and 33 RBI.

Now, in Orsulak's absence, Martinez has seized the opportunity. He has started nine of the last 10 games. Before Orsulak got hurt, he had started only seven of the previous 61.

Including his 1-for-3 effort in last night's 6-4 victory over the California Angels, Martinez has gone 10-for-27 (.370) in his last seven games. In Tuesday's 9-1 win over the Angels, he tied his career high with three hits and homered for the first time since July 9.

"Now, finally, I have good rhythm, but it took six or seven days of playing to get it back," said Martinez, whose lone hit last night was an infield single. "I'm seeing the ball well, working the count, laying off bad pitches. I'm not hitting home runs like I expected [five for the season], but somewhere I lost my home run stroke."

He had it last year, as batting coach Greg Biagini can attest. As Rochester's manager, Biagini watched Martinez hit 20 home runs before the Orioles recalled him July 5.

"The way he was swinging Tuesday night was as good as I've seen him all season," Biagini said. "You can see it in his bat speed. When he generates bat speed, his home run potential is as good as anyone's.

"It takes a power hitter longer to find his stroke than a singles hitter. The swing is bigger, and you need timing and bat speed to get the bat out in front. It's not like you're just putting the bat on the ball."

Timing is even more important for Martinez than for a big power hitter. At 5 feet 10, 182 pounds, he is relatively small.

"There's very little room for error for Chito," Biagini said. "If his body moves ahead even a little, it can throw off his timing, because he's not that big a guy."

Martinez realizes he has little room for complaint about his lack of activity this season. The three regular outfielders -- Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux and Orsulak -- have been productive.

"It's not like they're struggling," Martinez said. "It would be different if one was. There's no sense getting mad because it just hinders your play. All I can do is tip my hat to them."

Soon, Oates will be confronted by a decision. Whether it will be easy or not depends on how Martinez is playing.

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