ST. LOUIS -- Russell Martin is in the midst of his finest season in terms of throwing out potential base-stealers.
"My throws have been awesome, man," Martin said. "It's something that I've perfected. This is probably the year where I've been [most] consistent."
Martin has thrown out 44 percent of runners attempting to steal, the highest mark of his eight years spent behind the plate. That mark ranks second in the major leagues behind Cleveland's Yan Gomes.
"This is the best year that I've ever been throwing guys out at second base," Martin said. "It's not just throwing guys out, my throws, my quality of throws, they're right on the bag every time it seems."
The Pirates targeted a catcher as one in need of an upgrade before this season and sought Martin to fill the void. His throws are stronger than those of Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry, which accounts for some of the difference from 2012 when opposing teams ran on the Pirates at will.
This year, though, he has help. Pirates pitchers improved their release times and various tricks -- holding the ball for different amounts of time, pick-off moves -- to shorten the leads of would-be base stealers.
"Most pitchers that are like a 1.3, a 1.35 [seconds], those are times that are decent," Martin said. "You get guys that are a 1.1 or a 1.2, then you got no chance of stealing a bag. Not many of our guys are above 1.4.
"There's only so much time I can make up. My best throw probably this year was like a 1.75. That's as quick as I can put it down and it's accurate, it will get most guys out, but if you have a pitcher that's slow to the plate, like a 1.6 or a 1.7, it doesn't matter."
Keeping runners out of scoring position has helped the Pirates prevent runs -- they rank second in the National League with 3.6 runs allowed per game. Martin said he doesn't change his pitch-calling with runners on base, though, and remains aggressive.
"If you feel you have a certain pitch you can get a ground ball and get a double play, sometimes you try and do that," he said. "If not, most of the time, you're trying to punch somebody out. I know that's what pitchers are trying to do, especially on our team."
Martin's arm and the pitchers' delivery times face quite the test later in the month, when the Cincinnati Reds and speed specialist Billy Hamilton visit PNC Park.
Manager Clint Hurdle said he planned to use Garrett Jones as the designated hitter in a game today against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark. Hurdle put Jones second Sunday to give him some at-bats. Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish is scheduled to start today.
The three games against the Rangers conclude the Pirates' interleague play this season. They are 12-5 against American League teams this year, but 2-10 all time against the Rangers, 0-6 in Texas
"I don't think it's a major issue, it's just different," Hurdle said of interleague play in mid-September. "We never had to do it before. There were some different things to deal with early in the season. There were teams that opened up opening day in interleague play."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 9, 2013 4:00 AM