Central Intelligence: Part-time move helps Indians catcher

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2007 - 8:32 PM

All-Star backstop Victor Martinez has been spending some time at first base, with positive results.

While the Twins bristle at suggestions of Joe Mauer switching positions altogether, there's proof in their own division that a taste of another job might help.

For very different reasons, Cleveland has made catcher Victor Martinez into a part-time first baseman, and he's become a better all-around player.

Martinez, 26, used to be a defensive liability at catcher. So the Indians used him at first base for 22 games last season, and he had played 28 games there entering this weekend.

Suddenly, he doubled his success rate at throwing out opposing base stealers. His rate jumped from 14 percent last year to 28 percent this year.

He also ended Friday batting .305 with 21 homers and 101 RBI.

"He's a great athlete," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "He's our starting catcher -- that's what he is, though we do have him play first base every now and again. And I think it helps. It gets him out of the squat [position] for a day."

Wedge was a catcher himself, so he can appreciate the toll the position takes on the body. Since Mauer has battled leg injuries in two of his four big league seasons, it's been suggested that he should try third base. The difference, of course, is that Mauer is a stalwart defensive catcher. This year, he's thrown out 49 percent of opposing base stealers.

"I wouldn't anticipate him moving to any other position; he's just too good behind the plate," Wedge said. "I mean, he's a great hitter, too, but he just offers too much as a catcher, in my opinion."

Tigers focus on wild card

With his team 7½ games behind the Indians this week, manager Jim Leyland said: "I tip my cap to them. They are winning the way division champions win."

After taking the wild-card route to the World Series last year, Leyland hopes to do it again. He said he "takes full responsibility" for Detroit's slide. They were in a 15-29 stretch before his concession speech.

But he mentioned injuries to Placido Polanco and Gary Sheffield as critical factors. Those two, along with Kenny Rogers, have returned to duty.

"Everybody has lost players," Leyland said. "I'm not complaining. I'm just making a point."

Around the division

• White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen could receive a contract extension soon, and he already is signed through 2008 with an option for 2009. Though it's been a volatile year, this could be management's way of saying to the players, "You're stuck with him, so get on board, or prepare to leave."Let me just say this," GM Kenny Williams said, "There has not been one thought in my mind through all of this that maybe Ozzie Guillen isn't the guy to bring another championship to Chicago."

• The Royals have plenty to be excited about on the pitching front. Entering the weekend, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke had combined to post a 2.38 ERA since the All-Star break. They also promoted 2006 first-round draft pick Luke Hochevar. The righthander hadn't exactly been dominant in the minors — going 4-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 27 games at Class AA and Class AAA — but he did have 138 strikeouts in 152 innings.

A variety of sources were used in compiling this notebook. Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

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