Bunt single helps Sounds catcher catch fire at the plate

Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 9:11pm

When the batting average begins to dip well below the Mendoza Line, batters will do anything to get a hit.

Martin Maldonado is no different.

Through his first five games this season with the Nashville Sounds, the catcher struggled at the plate. His manager Don Money called it over-swinging. Maldonado said his confidence was low. Whatever the cause, the eight-year minor league veteran was 2-for-14.

So, the right-handed hitter decided to take matters into his own hands and create hits — with a drag bunt.

Last week, against Oklahoma City in just the sixth game of the season, he got a running start in the batter’s box and laid a soft bunt down the third-base line. It was his second drag bunt of the season and it came in the middle of a three-hit game for Maldonado.

“He loves getting away with that drag bunt,” Sounds center fielder Brett Carroll said. “It is beautiful that he gets it done.”

Added Maldonado: “I was just trying to get a bunt. However, they give it to me — that is for a base hit.”

The hits are rolling in now.

After three and a RBI against Oklahoma City on April 13, he added two more and drove in another run the next day. It was part of a five-game stretch where he went 9-for-18 and lifted his batting average to .343. For the season, he is batting .278 as the Sounds (6-8) wrap up a series in New Orleans on Friday.

They open up an eight-game homestand at 6:35 p.m. start Saturday at Greer Stadium against Omaha.

Any offense Maldonado can bring is welcomed, considering he bats in the bottom third of the lineup.

“For him to contribute not only defensively — which is first and foremost — but for him to contribute offensively is only going to be a team boost,” Carroll said.

Maldonado’s defensive attributes could be his ticket to the next level. Before this season began, Baseball America dubbed him as the “best defensive catcher” in the Milwaukee Brewers system.

He showed off his cannon against Oklahoma City when he threw out out two runners on April 13. Last year, he threw out 42 percent (36 of 84) of attempted basestealers while he bounced around in the Milwaukee organization. He started in High-A Brevard County (Fla.), then moved up to Double-A Huntsville (Ala.) before he played his last 52 games with the Sounds.

Spending the last half of the 2010 season in Nashville has helped Maldonado this spring.

He knows a lot of the pitchers’ tendencies, which helps him when calling games. His selection of pitches might also be why the Sounds lead the Pacific Coast League in team ERA with a 3.25 mark.

“I try to bring the same pace,” he said. “I have been knowing those guys for a little bit so we are pretty much on the same page.”

The 24-year-old from Puerto Rico seems to be built for the wear and tear with a 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame. He caught 452.2 innings last year and has started 11 of the Sounds’ 14 games this spring. He also caught all 14 innings of a loss to New Orleans on April 10.

“He has been a rock behind the plate,” Carroll said. “Defensively, those guys that can play like that can play at a high level for a lot of years.”

He is hoping all the time spent in the minor leagues will pay off and allow him to get his shot at the Major Leagues.

He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2004, released three years later and soon after he was signed by the Brewers. He spent the last three spring trainings with the Brewers and is on the team’s 40-man roster.

The Brewers are carrying three catchers right now but, as Money pointed out, one trade or one injury could move Maldonado up the ladder.

Maldonado, however, is concentrating on the rung he is on right now.

“I have to focus right here,” he said. “That’s where I want to be, up to the big leagues — so I try to do my job here. If something happens, that is probably going to be my chance. [But] I focus more here than upstairs. That is why I try to do my job here every day. Come, ready to play every day so that is the bottom line.”