SEATTLE — When a club isn’t hitting, why not bring in an expert like, say, the greatest designated hitter in the history of the game?
The Seattle Mariners reached into their past Saturday by hiring franchise icon Edgar Martinez as their new hitting coach. After more than a decade away for the game, Martinez is ready to wear No. 11 again on a daily basis.
“I love the game,” he said. “I knew at some point I would want to go back into the game. Now, my kids are much older. When I retired (in 2004), the next season, the first day, I had a baby in my arms watching the game.
“Now is the right time. I really missed the game all of those years. I’m excited about being part of the organization again.”
Martinez replaces Howard Johnson, who was reassigned to a position within the club’s minor-league system.
The switch comes as the Mariners seek to unlock a disappointing attack that ranks last in the American League in runs scored per game.
“Watching the club,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “it had become apparent to me that we had reached the point that a change was necessary.
“I appreciate Howard Johnson’s professionalism and work ethic, but we simply were not getting the results that we expect and require.”
The Mariners turned to Martinez, who has spent several years working with the club in spring training as a guest hitting instructor. He added duties this season as a minor-league instructor.
“For the last three years,” Martinez said, “I’ve been thinking I want to get back into the game. Obviously, I want to do it with the Mariners because I played my whole career with the Mariners. I do think this is the right time.
“The team, I have seen so much talent on the Mariners for a long time. So I think we have the right talent, the right manager and coaching staff. I think it’s a great opportunity for me.”
Martinez will serve, for now, as the club’s sole hitting coach. The Mariners narrowed duties for former assistant hitting coach Andy Van Slyke, who will now concentrate on working with the club’s outfielders.
“I want to give Edgar the opportunity to lay his foundation and put his footprint on this,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “But I think as we move forward, he will get some help.”
The Mariners responded to the switch Saturday by hitting three home runs in a 6-3 victory over Houston.
Martinez jumped into the role even before the Mariners announced his new role. He was in the batting cages in early afternoon when catcher Mike Zunino wandered in for some early work.
“He talked about how much he enjoys working off the tee to fine-tune your swing,” Zunino said. “I hit about 20 minutes off the tee with him, and I was putting balls in play that I didn’t think I could get to.
“I ended up hitting line drives off it. It was pretty good. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Martinez, 52, concluded an 18-year career, spent entirely with the Mariners, in 2004. He finished with a .312 career average in 2,055 games with a .418 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage.
He was also an All-Star in seven seasons, a five-time Silver Slugger recipient and so accomplished at the plate that baseball’s annual award honoring the game’s best designated hitter bears his name.
“Edgar is obviously a huge presence in Seattle,” veteran Willie Bloomquist said. “His accolades speak for themselves. He helped me a lot when he was a player, and I think guys will certainly pay attention to what he says.”
Zduriencik said he spent the last few days in deep conversations with Martinez, which deepened a belief that Martinez could make the transition from star player to effective coach.
“We all know how he became the hitter he became,” Zduriencik said. “His study of video is legendary in how he prepared himself. We think it’s the right time for him to be here as our hitting coach.”
Martinez said he will emphasize a positive approach in his coaching, which is what he wanted as a player.
“I didn’t want to hear what I’m doing wrong,” he said. “It’s more, `How can I fix it?’ Focus on positive information so they can start feeling good about their swing and their game.
“(Former Mariners hitting coach) Lee Elia was great at that. He always would have something positive to say. Don’t concentrate on the negative so much.
“I have some ideas for some of the guys, but I’m also going to do a lot of listening and watching — for the next few days, especially.”