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Dodgers' Russell Martin looks for return to glory after losing power

DODGERS

An All-Star in 2007 and '08, the Dodgers catcher slumped to .250 with seven homers and 53 RBIs last season. So this winter he put on 25 pounds in hopes of regaining his long-ball stroke.

February 24, 2010|By Dylan Hernandez

Reporting from Phoenix — There was something different about the way Russell Martin looked when he reported for spring training.

The overgrown half-mohawk, half-Afro on his head was only part of the change.

His arms were thicker. His shoulders were wider.

"Two-thirty-one," he said when asked how much he weighed.

You're fat, he was told.

Martin laughed and flexed his tree-trunk right biceps.

"Are these fat right here?" he said, laughing.

At this time last year, Martin was about 25 pounds lighter, and he is convinced that led to his season-long power outage.

"I just didn't have the weight behind me," Martin said. "I think it just didn't translate well into my offense. As far as using the weight, transferring weight to hit the ball, it kind of faded for me a little bit."

A two-time All-Star, he batted only .250 last season with seven home runs and 53 runs batted in -- all career lows. He didn't hit his first home run until June 20. His solution: Put on weight.

In response to the worst offensive season in his major league career, Martin spent the off-season re-sculpting his body and says he now weighs more than what he did during his All-Star seasons in 2007 and 2008.

Whoa, whoa, hold on a second.

Doesn't that sound a lot like what Andruw Jones said a couple of springs ago when he showed up overweight to prepare for what turned out to be a three-homer season?

In theory, yes. The application of that theory, no.

While Jones ballooned because of liberal eating and training habits, Martin's weight gain hasn't put much, if any, noticeable fat on his 5-foot-10 frame.

"Like a linebacker," Martin said.

In the winter leading up to last season, Martin said he took extreme measures to improve his flexibility, cutting back on his strength training and taking up yoga.

Then there was his diet.

"I was just like a freak with my nutrition," he said. "I was over the top last year. . . . I was eating really healthy -- lean meats, a lot of vegetables, no sugars, fresh fruits, just organic stuff."

He said that while he felt less fatigued in the second half of the season than in the previous years, he didn't have any pop in his swing.

Magnifying the problem was the lack of a consistent approach at the plate.

"The biggest thing with Russell is that he has to get a plan and stick with it," hitting coach Don Mattingly said. "I think he'll admit that a lot of times, he's his worst enemy. If he goes two days, he doesn't get two hits, he wants to do something a little different. It's hard to build a base like that. You have to stay consistent with your work."

Martin said that not hitting home runs also put him in a psychological hole.

"It was a tough year because I didn't get the results that I wanted personally," he said. "I felt I was battling myself, maybe spending too much energy. Sometimes you try too hard, it doesn't happen for you. I just kept battling. It really didn't go the way I wanted."

Expectations were high after he hit .293 with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs in 151 games in 2007.

"He got spoiled early on," Manager Joe Torre said. "He made the All-Star team a couple of years in a row and the last couple of years he's been trying to recapture that. That's what this game does to you. It's all about adjustments. It's fine-tuning. The good part about it with Russell is he has tremendous amounts of energy."

Martin not only started to power-lift more, he flew to Arizona early to take part in a training regimen recommended to him by pitcher Eric Gagne and his wife.

The program consisted of one-hour workout sessions in a 100-degree room. Participants were subjected to a series of crunches, squats and sparring sessions. "It's intense, man," he said. "I can't go through a whole session without taking water breaks. It's that intense."

Martin also made small adjustments to his diet.

"It's not like I'm eating pizza every day now," he said. "It's just that if I have a steak, I'm not afraid to eat a potato with that.

"I eat healthy, but I'm not being a freak the way I was last year. I'm trying to find something that I can stick with instead of just doing something and trying something for two months and getting tired about it and doing something else. It's all about balance."

Martin said his weight gain isn't as extreme as it might seem, pointing to how he weighed around 220 at the end of last season.

"If you work out the right way, anybody can gain weight," he said. "It's a balance of rest, eating the right things and pushing yourself. For me, it's not that hard to gain weight. It's harder for me to lose weight."

He said he expects to gain weight as the season progresses. "I might be like 240 at the end of the year, I'm telling you," he said.

Torre admits he doesn't know how the added bulk will affect Martin.

"I think we're going to find out," Torre said. "One thing that I feel good about is that Russ, whatever he's deciding to do for conditioning, he conditions. He certainly isn't a guy who waits around all winter and then decides, 'OK, here it is, the end of February, let's get to work.' "

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

twitter.com/dylanohernandez

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