After a slow start that led to questions about whether he was handed the everyday shortstop job too soon, Marte has begun play like the Mariners management envisioned.
Scott Servais has called it “swag.” It’s a word the Mariners’ manager likely heard from his daughters or one of his players. He also has used “confidence” and “belief” in his descriptions. Robinson Cano labeled it “knowing you are good.”
To shortstop Ketel Marte it’s not cockiness, swag, confidence or belief — it is just how he always has played the game.
Even when things did not go well early this season, his attitude never changed, because it’s what helped him reach the major leagues and will keep him there.
Kansas City @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
“I know I can play,” he said. “I always believed in myself.”
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After a slow start (he hit .186 with 10 strikeouts and three walks in the first 12 games) that led to questions about whether the 22-year-old was handed the everyday job too soon, Marte has begun to play like Mariners management envisioned — getting on base, creating havoc on the base paths and improving daily in the field.
“I think we’ve seen as a few hits have dropped in, the confidence has grown,” Servais said. “He looks much more sure of himself — not just in the batter’s box but defensively as well, which is pretty normal for all young players. I think he feels like he belongs; he’s a big part of our team in the middle of the field.”
But after an off day in Cleveland to clear his head and continued work with hitting coach Edgar Martinez, Marte has been on a tear. In his past seven games, he’s batting .433 (13 for 30) with seven runs scored, three doubles, two RBI and three strikeouts.
“It’s going to be streaky,” Servais said. “We’re riding a very good streak right now. He’s had a very good week, and hopefully he can continue to ride it.”
Marte struggled with the timing of his swing, particularly getting his hands set as the pitch was delivered. Marte rests the bat on his shoulder and raises it as the pitch is delivered. The timing on that trigger had been slow.
“I’ve been doing that from the start of my career,” he said. “I’m getting comfortable, getting them up early. I’ve got to do that and start when the pitcher starts. When he does that, I move my hands up.”
Being a switch-hitter, Marte has to work twice as hard to find rhythm and comfort from each side of the plate.
“He’s made a few adjustments with Edgar, and he’s able to handle more pitches on the plate,” Servais said. “One thing he does is foul off a lot of balls and grinds at-bats. He’s working his way through it. There’s a lot of upside in his game, and he’s still learning.”
During this hot streak, he has shown the propensity to spray the ball to all fields from either side of the plate.
“I want to hit the ball in the gaps,” Marte said. “Get a good pitch, and hit into the gaps and run.”
Marte excels at the “run” part. He’s one of the Mariners’ fastest players and might be their best overall base runner in terms of instinct, aggressiveness and acceleration. He’s fearless.
A perfect example came in Tuesday’s win when Cano got caught in a rundown between first and second base with Marte on third. Seeing Cano was hung up, Marte inched off the base, getting closer to home and then bursting into full speed the instant Astros first baseman Tyler White caught the ball. It forced White to hurry, and he threw off balance and past the catcher, though it appeared Marte would have beaten the throw.
“Marte took off at the right time,” Servais said.
It was one of several times the Mariners have benefited from Marte’s speed and quickness on the bases.
“When he gets on the bases and the energy gets flowing, you can just see it,” Servais said. “It picks up our club.”
Marte might not be as fast as teammate Leonys Martin. And he doesn’t have elite speed. But he has outstanding quickness and is able to get to top speed in an instant. That comes from workouts.
“I work hard on legs lifting, and I do agility work for every workout,” he said. “That has helped me.”
It has carried over into the field, where Marte must use better footwork to offset his throwing arm, which is not the strongest for a shortstop. He has worked hard to attack balls and get the ball from his glove into his throwing hand quickly.
“Just keep working,” he said. “That’s what I have to do.”
Cano has been a mentor to his fellow Dominican. He sees the growth.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Cano said. “The more you play, the more you learn. He’s one of those guys that the more he plays, the better he’ll get. He’s been pretty good for us. Even when he wasn’t swinging good, he played good defense.
“ He’s a great kid, a great talent and is going to be special.”