BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin already has a world-class reputation for framing pitches, and with Mike LaValliere's help is working on becoming even better at earning strikes for his pitchers.
Despite being unable to throw due to some shoulder soreness, Martin has been in the laboratory of the former Pirates catcher, in camp on manager Clint Hurdle's invitation as a special instructor. "Spanky" stands about 15 feet away and tosses balls to Martin into various quadrants of an imaginary strike zone.
Martin has to react quickly to grab each offering in his bare hand. Besides adding quickness, the drill is intended to get Martin accustomed to "giving" with the pitch -- hence the barehanded approach, as one would in an egg-catching contest -- to grab it in a good spot for the umpire to see it as a strike.
"We have so many guys on this staff with great overhand curveballs, where you catch them makes a big difference in what it gets called," LaValliere said. "This teaches you to catch the pitch on a good plane."
Speaking of catching, Martin's work habits are also contagious. Michael McKenry, the Bucs' No. 2 receiver, has made a point of asking LaValliere to put him through the same drills done by Martin.
"He wants to know how Russ does it, and wants to follow that path," LaValliere said.
Martin not in Wednesday lineup, but feels better
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin walked out of the Pirates' training room on Wednesday morning wearing a wide smile and an electronic heating gadget strapped to his right shoulder and said he "feels much better today."
Martin was scratched from Tuesday's lineup with what was categorized as "upper-body soreness" and remained on the sidelines on Wednesday. The generic description notwithstanding, the affected area is clearly his shoulder.
Saying it was "the first time ever" he'd experienced the problem, Martin attributed it to not warming up properly prior to making his only exhibition start on Sunday.
"I know exactly where it came from," Martin said. "I did my routine, all the catching stuff, and by the time I jumped in with J-Mac [James McDonald, that day's starter], he'd already started long-tossing with Herbie [bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade] and he's up to 90 feet.
"I'm used to starting with the pitcher, so when I jumped in, my first throw was at 90 feet. Then my arm just never got loose. I rushed my warm-up that day, and just never got loose and there was a little bit of soreness."
Given the admission that his arm never loosened up, it might be significant to bear in mind that in the fourth inning of that game, Martin picked off Atlanta's Blake DeWitt at first base with a strong snap throw, and left the game before the next inning began. It is a reasonable assumption that the all-out throw to first, released with an irregular motion, triggered the soreness.
The last word
"Upper-body soreness … I'll let you guys figure it out." -- Russell Martin, adhering to the official classification of the injury that has sidelined him for a couple of days, to reporters while wearing an electronic harness wrapped around his right shoulder.
• Both Wandy Rodriguez, who pitched two innings in relief on Wednesday, and Jameson Taillon, due to start against the Red Sox on Thursday, will make one more appearance prior to departing for the World Baseball Classic.
Rodriguez, with the Dominican Republic, and Taillon, with Canada, will both be involved in Pool D play in Phoenix, starting March 8.
• Jose Tabata, a late substitution, scored both of the Bucs' runs in the 8-2 loss to Tampa Bay after doubles in the sixth and eighth innings.
• Tuesday's rainout was the first at McKechnie Field since March 21, 2010.
• Russell Martin has gone on record that he has "never seen so many live arms in one camp." Two of those live arms spent part of the morning portraying dead bodies. A.J. Burnett and James McDonald were doing their best zombie impersonations in the clubhouse. Burnett was far more believable, thanks to all his tattoos.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.