ARLINGTON, TEX. — Orioles rookie shortstop Richie Martin's ninth-inning home run was the team's sole offensive highlight of Wednesday's 2-1 loss in Texas.
However, the home run wasn't the only significant development at the plate for the team's Rule 5 pick.
Martin has been challenged with the jump from Double-A to the majors this year and ordered to focus on his defense as his bat comes around. He has had plenty of work to do at the plate as the season has progressed.
On Wednesday, he went from two-strike counts to walks twice before hitting a two-strike home run to send the game to extra innings. It’s the type of progress hitting coach Don Long wants to see from the team's major league development project.
"I think this has kind of been an ongoing process for him, really from day one," Long said. "It's not like we did it from day one. When you get somebody new in the organization, you want o give them an opportunity to show what they do, and that's kind of what we did in spring training. As we worked our way through spring training, I think we all realized together that maybe simplifying what he did at the plate could put him in a better position on-time, more often.
"And it's still a work in progress for him. But he has made strides. The thing I love about him is his ability in his own mind, to stay confident and committed to the process, even if the end result in the game can kind of come and go. And that's a very hard thing to do."
Martin, 24, was the Orioles' Opening Day shortstop before his playing time diminished some after the first month. He still plays often, even though his rate stats are almost identical from April to May save for a high line-drive rat. His average has remained around .176, but his .539 OPS is the highest it has been all season.
But Martin says he's measuring success by "quality of at-bats," and he's seeing progress there.
"It all depends on the situation, but obviously, hitting the ball hard, you're usually having a good at-bat but moving runners, doing your job, and also playing a full game of baseball, defense and base running, just doing everything I can for the team to win. The game's not just one aspect of hitting, so that's what I like to measure it by."
Long said he judges two things before all else.
"The first place I like to go with guys is checking with them, are you maintaining your confidence regardless of the end result because that drives the whole process for everybody," Long said. "Two, you start looking at, are you really ready to hit? Are you moving on time? Are you in a good position to hit, and are you starting to command the strike zone? Are you starting to make them come into the actual strike zone to get you to swing? Are you still chasing a lot outside of the zone?
"Once you start to shrink that part, then now, within the at-bat, are you not just attacking pitches in the zone but areas in the zone up until two strikes where you can be productive? He's kind of moving the bar in that regard some. Like I said, it's a long, difficult process to be able to do that. But I think last night gives you a good example of an at-bat where he got to two strikes maybe not swinging at the pitches he wanted to to get there, but then once there, he was able to kind of defend the zone, defend the at-bat, and work a couple walks. I see that as huge process for somebody like him."
What encourages Long most is how Martin has taken his tough days in stride. It is something that can get difficult at this stage of the season when batting averages are flashing on a half-dozen screens across the stadium each night.
"The challenge is not making the numbers their identity and who they are," Long said.
He said after spring training, when players have more of a "growth mindset" and are more process-oriented than results-oriented, it can go the other way. It didn't with Martin, who Long said is a "good question-asker" who tries to fully understand everything he's presented and shows how much he wants to learn.
Martin, for his part, hasn't wavered much, insisting struggles at the plate won’t bog down the rest of his game, let alone his life.
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"I'm not going to die," Martin said. "Everything's going to be OK. I feel fine. I feel like things are going well, so I've just got to keep at it. You can measure successes different than on paper, so that's the way I'm looking at it."