There’s a reason Miguel Cabrera, who was walked intentionally 32 times last season, has only been walked on purpose 17 times this year.
That reason is Victor Martinez.
Teams declined to face Cabrera last season after the club lost three regulars — Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge — the last week in July. Without Guillen, and with Brennan Boesch slumping, manager Jim Leyland had no protection for Cabrera in the order.
That’s why the club went out and jumped on Martinez with both feet and a fistful of dollars during the free agent signing period.
Early in the season, teams continued to walk Cabrera — until Martinez continually made them pay. Then it stopped.
Cabrera and Martinez are the top two percentage hitters in the league with runners in scoring position, approaching .400.
Martinez has been gimping around the bases since early August due to a left knee sprain, and it robbed him of his power. Hitting left-handed, it’s his push-off leg; batting right-handed, it’s his plant leg. So the knee has been slow to get better and has forced Leyland to catch Alex Avila every day, not that it’s a problem, as Avila is hitting .301.
Earlier in the week, Martinez’s knee showed marked improvement. Nothing has been said about it, but it’s visible in how he runs the bases.
And now his power is starting to return.
Martinez hit a grand slam Wednesday in Detroit’s 8-6, sweep-completing victory in Cleveland to cap a three-game series in which he hit two home runs (his ninth and 10th of the season) and drove in 10 runs. He is now 9-for-15 with 25 RBI with the bases loaded this season.
“He didn’t waste any time,” Leyland said of Martinez creaming a first-pitch fastball from Tony Sipp. “He got a pitch to hit and he jumped on it. That’s what he does. He’s a big time hitter in big situations.”
Martinez has 89 RBI, so reaching 100, which seemed improbable a week ago, now looks like something that could be done.
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