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You Have to Hand It to the Padres’ Home Run-Slugging Left Fielder. . . : Martinez’s Loose Grip Sinks Expos

Staff Writer

Padre batting coach Deacon Jones has been trying to get left fielder Carmelo Martinez to think hands instead of home runs.

Hands? Is this boxing or baseball?

“He has to get his hands to relax so that he can stay behind the ball and drive it,” Jones said. “The adrenalin starts flowing, and he tends to muscle up at the plate and tighten his hands. That’s when he takes a long sweeping swing, and his bat slows down.”

In the Padres’ 5-4 win over the Montreal Expos on Thursday afternoon at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the only slow thing Martinez did was to trot around the bases after hitting his fifth and sixth home runs of the season.

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When not trotting, Martinez was slugging.

His hands were as quick as they are when he is seen twirling a bat through his legs on a local commercial.

Martinez, who had not hit a home run since May 7 in St. Louis, went 3 for 4 with four RBIs. He was also instrumental in helping the Padres piece together an insurance run in the eighth inning.

Martinez was cradling the bat instead of squeezing it for dear life.

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“I’ve been taking extra batting practice,” Martinez said, “and I’m trying to get on top of the ball, hit it hard and not be too anxious.”

Not being too anxious to hit the ball over the fence is something all young power hitters have to learn.

“I just have to reinforce that over and over again,” Jones said. “He’s a young hitter who has to learn relaxed concentration.”

Martinez’s even temperament and sense of humor are definitely helpful in handling hitting slumps.

“Nice to see you all again,” he said when he was surrounded by reporters after the game.

It had been a long time since Martinez held court.

In his first game of the season, which was also the Padres’ home opener, he hit two home runs and drove in five runs in San Diego’s 8-3 win over the Giants. That was on April 15.

Since then, he has hit only two home runs. And Thursday afternoon did not appear to be the time he would break loose.

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Entering the game, he had a career mark of .187 with no home runs and only four RBIs against Montreal. The Expos were the only National League team he had not homered against.

In his first at-bat against Expo left-hander Dan Schatzeder, Martinez lined a single to left. It was a good omen for a player who has always hit better in the daytime.

Martinez grew up playing in the hot sun in Puerto Rico, and he was drafted by the “No Lights in Wrigley Field” Chicago Cubs in 1979.

The Expos led, 1-0, in the bottom of the fourth when Martinez came to the plate with Kevin McReynolds on second and Terry Kennedy on first.

With nobody out, Martinez tried to go to right field on Schatzeder’s first two pitches, both of which were knuckle-curves.

Then, he got the swing-away sign from third base coach Ozzie Virgil.

He drilled a 1-2, low-and-inside knuckle-curve high into the stands down the left-field line to give the Padres a 3-0 lead and give himself a bundle of confidence.

“The next time I came up to the plate, I was determined to look for a fastball,” Martinez said.

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With one out and nobody on in the sixth, Martinez faced right-handed reliever Randy St. Claire.

He looked for a fastball on the first pitch, saw it and smashed it out of the park in left-center field.

This one was hit even harder and farther than the first one.

“That was a nice, easy swing,” Martinez said.

Jones agreed.

“What a beautiful swing,” Jones said. “It was almost like it was in slow motion. It was all bat speed, not muscle.”

It was all in the hands.


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