Two years ago, shortstop Richie Martin played 120 games for the Orioles as a Rule 5 draft choice. Last season, he didn’t play at all in the 60-game season after breaking his right wrist on a slide during summer camp.
With less than two weeks to go in the Grapefruit League season this spring, Martin, 26, still hasn’t played for the Orioles after needing surgery to remove the hamate bone from his left hand. He injured the hand playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.
Manager Brandon Hyde hopes Martin returns Friday night. In the interim, he’s getting at-bats on the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida.
“I started feeling a little pain, like late December and it was just minor wrist pain,” Martin said. “In mid-January, it really started bothering me and ended up shutting it down. It wasn’t a specific swing or a specific incident, it was lingering, and I got it checked out … it ended up being broken.”
Had there been a 162-game season in 2020, Martin would have begun the season at Triple-A Norfolk, a level he skipped. When he was the overall top choice in the Rule 5 draft in December 2018, Martin had completed a successful season at Double-A Midland in the Oakland organization.
Martin hit .300 with an .807 OPS, and then was left exposed in the draft. The Orioles chose him, and he stayed with them all season, hitting just .208, but he hit well in September, posting a .379 average in 11 games.
Martin would have played shortstop last season if he hadn’t been hurt because injuries limited the playing time José Iglesias. With Iglesias gone, Freddy Galvis was signed to play shortstop in 2021, and Yolmer Sánchez was claimed on waivers to play second.
“I’m very blessed right now,” Martin said. “God’s good. I’m a few days away from playing again. Injuries are a part of baseball. It gives you perspective, and it gives you the time to grow, and that’s a part of life to baseball. I had a lot of time not playing. A good learning lesson. I’m very eager to get back out there. I can’t wait, man.
“This time away has made me appreciate being on the field. Not that I’ve taken the game for granted. It really makes me appreciate being on the field a lot more.”
With Galvis around, Martin might have to play another position. He played 21 games at second base for Midland in 2019.
“I’m always open to playing other positions,” he said. “I want to help the team win any way I can. But in my mind, I’m a shortstop. I grew up a shortstop, playing there my whole life … with that being said, if I need to play another position to help the team win, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Until told otherwise, I’m going to work at short. That’s my job.”
Hyde likes Martin’s skills and versatility.
“I think Richie’s very athletic,” Hyde said. “He’s a shortstop that can play other places, both places in the middle. I can even see him spelling in center or in the [corner] outfield if need be down the road. Shortstop is his primary position, something that he’s really good at. He’s so athletic, he can play anywhere.”
Overall, Martin enjoyed the experience in Puerto Rico, being one of a handful of players from the continental United States playing for Caguas.
“Being immersed in Puerto Rico, I was there for two months,” Martin said. “First off, it was fun. Second off, I was able to work on a lot of different things.
“I stayed in San Juan. I was able to be around a very passionate team. Being over there, you realize how passionate they play the game. You understand why a lot of the Latin players play with that eager fire the way they do over here … It rubs off on guys like me over here, so it was cool to be around that and to experience that.”
Martin said the hand is healing.
“The hamate is a little tricky,” Martin said. “There’s not really a bone per se that needs to heal. It’s more tendons and ligaments running through that bone. It’s just about dealing with the [discomfort] in that area.
“Just making sure that it’s properly healed … where I’m able to compete and play at 100 percent. We’ve been working really hard at where it needs to be. The training staff’s doing a great job of getting my hand where it needs to be, and that’s all that matters.”
If Martin returns on Friday, it would give him 11 games to get ready for the season. He could begin the season with Norfolk at the alternate site at Bowie.
“I have all intentions of coming to play in the next few days,” he said. “I have to earn a job, as simple as that. I can’t look ahead at where I’m going to be, or where I’m not.”