Martinez back for second round of help

Martinez back for second round to help hitters

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A crowd of fans peered through the holes in the batting cage Saturday morning, eager for a glimpse at the work being done before Saturday's game with the Royals.

It would be flattering for Adam Jones to think the fans were trying to steal a glance at his swing. The 21-year-old outfield prospect is "on the bubble" as the final roster cuts near, but with his batting average falling nearly 50 points below his weight, the 6-foot-2 200-pounder is keeping a lower profile than he'd like.

"My timing's off right now," Jones said later in the day, after grounding to short in his only at-bat against the Royals. "I just have to get more at-bats. I know they're going to be a little scarce."

In the meantime, Jones is doing what he can to better his chances, spending time in the cage with hitting coach Jeff Pentland and, for a limited time only, the man who rewrote most of the team's offensive record books, Edgar Martinez.

Martinez is the one the fans are angling for a glimpse of as he lends his advice to Jones, complimenting Pentland's instruction as the two work on Jones' approach and his swing.

"This kid Jones is a good-looking athlete, and I think he's going to be a very good player," Martinez said after their session in the cage.

Back in town for a followup visit to his February appearance as a guest instructor, Martinez is eager to make a difference in helping prospects like Jones realize their potential.

Though the results may not have been immediately evident from reading the box score, Jones was feeling better at the plate, connecting on the first pitch he saw for a home-run-length foul drive to right field.

"We worked on load and using your hips," Jones explained, "getting the maximum out of your hips when you're swinging. So far it feels really, really good. I'll continue to do it in the cage, and hopefully it slowly works itself into the game."

For Martinez, the opportunity to make an impact on players in the game is a rewarding chance to come full circle, giving players the opportunity to grow and improve by taking advantage of his experience and expertise. Part of what Martinez worked to make Jones understand was a lesson the Mariners Hall of Famer learned in his own playing days.

"Early in my career I used to have my hands out too much," Martinez recalled. "I learned to get in closer to my body. I didn't use my legs as much to hit, and I started learning how to use my legs to drive the ball. Those two things made a big impact on my career early. I was able to drive the ball a little more. Later in my career I had to adjust. I used to have a high kick and I had got rid of that and try different things."

That newfound drive was partly responsible for turning Martinez from a hitter who never cracked 20 home runs in his first eight seasons in the big leagues to someone who hit at least 23 for the next seven seasons, and eight of his final 10.

"We never stop learning in this game," Martinez said, pointing out that he is working with veterans as well as prospects during his three days in camp. "As time goes by, you have to make adjustments, and when you make adjustments you have to find something different."

When Martinez came to camp in February -- his first coaching experience ever -- the position players had just barely arrived, and were still in the early stages of getting back in the groove.

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"Everybody was working on their swings," Martinez recalled. "It was a little more working with some of the guys' swings. Now, they already have 50 at-bats or so, so it's more concentrated. See if somebody has a problem or needs some help.

"They're swinging the bats well," he added by way of general evaluation of the club. "It's a good sign."

At this time of spring, barely a week from Opening Day, when a young player on the bubble has a problem, there won't be much hesitation in getting him together with Pentland for some last-minute swing doctoring. And with Martinez in town, the second opinion makes house calls.

Projected second baseman Jose Lopez makes another case in point of the quick turnaround that can come with late spring fine-tuning. The 23-year-old entered Friday's game with a .182 batting average, but little over a day later he'd gone 4-for-7 in two games, raising his spring average nearly 70 points to .250.

"Lopez had a good day yesterday," Hargrove said before Saturday's game. "We needed to see that. We need to see more of it. He'd done a lot of extra work yesterday morning with Jeff and Edgar. He came out of it in a good frame of mind."

Martinez understands that frame of mind is as important an element as any aspect of hitting, and he's careful to address the mental game as well.

"Concentrate," he'll tell a player. "Just go back to concentrating on the middle of the diamond, instead of, for example, trying to pull. Have a plan when you go up there."

The rewards offered by tangible results from adjustments at the plate may be a bit more subtle for Martinez the coach than they were for Martinez the hit man, but those who have spent time in the cage with him already note a level of confidence and mental sharpness they can bring to the plate with them.

"I feel comfortable in the zone. I'm seeing the ball good," Jones said, already planning to implement the advice from Pentland and Martinez. "Tomorrow I get to start, so hopefully I'll get four or five at-bats and feel a little bit better at the plate."

Just what the doctor ordered.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.