Yanks’ tandem an upgrade at catcher

So where is Russell Martin these days? Oh, that’s right; he took off for Pittsburgh as a free agent in the past off-season because the Pirates came up with a second year in their contract offer. Good for him; I hope he is happy.

I was thinking about Martin during the Yankees-Blue Jays game Sunday at Toronto when Chris Stewart hit a home run in the third inning and threw out Melky Cabrera trying to steal second base in the fifth.

I do not mean to pick on Martin as much as those who kept reporting all winter about how the Yankees blew it by not conceding to the catcher’s contract demands and would regret it. Look at what Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have done so far this year. Does anyone miss Russell Martin all that much?

The Cervelli-Stewart tandem was treated in a few media outlets as some sort of joke during spring training, but the duo have been a major part of the Yankees’ good start that hit a bump Sunday with an 8-4 loss. Stewart was involved in all the Yankees’ scoring innings. He got the Yanks on the board with his first home run of the season, began the two-run rally in the fifth with a single and bunted Jayson Nix to third base with one out in the sixth that preceded the sacrifice fly by Brett Gardner that gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead at that point.

In the first two games of the series – both Yankees victories – Cervelli was behind the plate and had 3-for-8 (.375) with two doubles and two runs scored. He has gotten the bulk of the playing time of the two catchers, with 42 at-bats to Stewart’s 17, but manager Joe Girardi insists that they are sharing the position. However the breakdown, the catching situation has been in good hands.

Cervelli and Stewart are batting a combined .322 with a .525 slugging percentage, three doubles, three home runs and eight RBI in 59 at-bats. Martin? He is hitting .216 with a .353 slugging percentage, three doubles, one home run and three RBI in 51 at-bats. Again, not to pick on the guy, but I cannot remember just when it was that Russell Martin became the second coming of Thurman Munson, which seemed to be an off-season theme in some circles.

Martin had two decent seasons with the Yankees. Last year, he showed renewed power (21 home runs) and had some memorable game-winning hits, including a huge homer against the Mets, but hit .211 for the season. Now I realize that the seamheads who adore the boutique stats don’t make much of batting average anymore, but .211 is still .211, which is not good by any measure.

Stewart had his hands full Sunday with another erratic outing from Ivan Nova, who threw 101 pitches but was gone after giving up a walk and a double to the first two batters in the sixth that the Jays turned into a four-run inning with RBI hits off relievers Boone Logan and David Phelps to regain the lead they would not relinquish again.

The leadoff walk in the sixth was to Toronto designated hitter Adam Lind. I do not know what the Yankees’ scouting report was on Lind, but they sure pitched to him carefully in the series. Lind had five plate appearances and walked in every one, including all four times he stepped to the plate Sunday.

It was nonetheless a positive series for the Yankees, who move on to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a three-game set against another American League East rival, the Rays, who swept the Athletics over the weekend at Tropicana Field.

Despite being booed loudly and repeatedly in the city where he was once a favorite, Vernon Wells will miss Toronto. He had quite series, going 7-for-15 (.467) with a double and two home runs. He also made the defensive play of the game Sunday in the third inning with a fence-climbing catch in left field to rob Edwin Encarnacion of a potential run-scoring, extra-base hit and begin a rally-killing double play.

Gardner also found Toronto to his liking, as usual. He had 5-for-14 (.357) in the series with a double, a home run, a stolen base, two runs and two RBI. Gardner is a .370 career hitter at Rogers Centre with 18 runs, six doubles, six triples, one home run and eight RBI in 30 games.

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