When the Indians began to build their team in 2002, they decided to do so with pitching. And Victor Martinez. “You can’t say pitching leads the way in an organization without having catching involved in it too,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Catching is just so important. You’re talking about 120 or 130 pitches in a game vs. maybe five at-bats for a hitter. Victor has earned a great deal of trust and confidence from the pitching staff.”
When the Indians began to build their team in 2002, they decided to do so with pitching. And Victor Martinez. “You can’t say pitching leads the way in an organization without having catching involved in it too,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Catching is just so important. You’re talking about 120 or 130 pitches in a game vs. maybe five at-bats for a hitter. Victor has earned a great deal of trust and confidence from the pitching staff.” Martinez’s development has mirrored that of the team that came together in 2007 for the club’s first Central Division championship since 2001. He made his big-league debut in 2002, when Bartolo Colon was traded and the dark days of rebuilding began. Martinez was brought up again midway through the 2003 season on a team that would lose 94 games. He batted .224 during his first 23 games, then .349 after Aug. 1. In 2004, the Indians were still in the pennant race on Aug. 15 and flirted with .500 ... and Martinez played in his first All-Star Game. In 2005 and 2007, Cleveland won 90 or more games with Martinez leading the way. “We are like a family here,” Martinez said. “Some of us have been together here since we were in the minor leagues.” Martinez could always hit. In fact, he was nicknamed “The Hit Machine” by teammates while working his way through Cleveland’s farm system. As he matured, however, so did the rest of his game. “In 2003, we had a long talk before he went to Triple-A,” Wedge said. “He was hitting .220 at Buffalo, but he was focusing 100 percent on catching, which is what he needed to do. It takes time. But he stuck with it, and he just keeps going with it.” Wedge, a former big-league catcher, now compliments Martinez on his game-calling skills quite often. “That makes me feel pretty good,” Martinez said. “But it’s all about (the pitchers), not me. I’m just back there trying to get the best out of every single pitcher every single night. You get a plan, take it into the game and follow their strengths.” The 29-year-old from Venezuela formulates a game plan through scouting reports and video of the opposing hitters. Most importantly, however, he knows his pitchers. “I’ve been catching for a good long time now,” Martinez said. “I know what every single (pitcher) will like to do.” Martinez also knows how to talk to pitchers. He was reminded during a recent conversation of the day in 1995 when veteran Indians catcher Tony Pena smacked closer Jose Mesa upside the head during a conversation on the mound. “You can’t talk like that to anybody,” Martinez said. “You’re nobody to talk like that. The right moment is after the game. You sit down with them and tell them what you’ve seen.” Martinez has seen career his batting average rise to .301, his final total last season. He also set career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (114) and was named the team’s most valuable player. That productivity, and the communication skills he has mastered over time, may not give him the right to yell at his pitchers on the mound. The way he plays, however, speaks loudly enough. “Victor is as hard a worker as we have,” Wedge said. “He wants to play. It’s a discipline lesson that everybody on our club needs to learn. It’s like the way Grady (Sizemore) plays. It speaks for itself.” Contact Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or email@example.com.