Victor Martinez probably won’t be the American League Most Valuable Player.
He likely isn’t even the MVP on his own team.
But in his own quiet way, Detroit’s designated hitter is having a remarkable season.
Martinez slugged a decisive three-run home run that expanded a 1-0 Detroit lead to 4-0 in the sixth inning Tuesday, and the Tigers beat the White Sox 5-0. Detroit equaled its longest winning streak since September 1968 at 11 games while increasing its division lead to 12 1/2 games with 14 to play.
Martinez’s 11th home run boosted his RBI total to 94. With more than two weeks to play, Martinez should reach 100 RBI for the fourth time in his career and second in three seasons.
It means Martinez has made a successful transition from being a regular catcher/first baseman to almost full-time designated hitter duty in less than a season. Many players find the idle time, innings off the field, more than they can handle mentally. Some take a season or two to find a way to deal with it. Some can’t do it at all.
Martinez accepted Detroit’s four-year deal knowing he would only catch if Alex Avila fell on his face. There was zero chance of him dislodging Miguel Cabrera from first base.
Once Martinez took the money, he made phone calls. He chiefly sought out two ex-teammates, Cleveland’s Travis Hafner and Boston’s David Ortiz, to pick their brains about handling the DH role.
Martinez had an injury problem early in the season that put him out of action for a couple weeks. He also sprained his left knee in early August trying to score, an injury he played through at the expense of his ability to catch and to the detriment of his power.
A few weeks ago it appeared as though Martinez would top out at 85-90 RBI and his home run total would be south of 10. But the knee got better, Detroit’s offense began to mesh, and opportunities for everybody went up.
Martinez hit a grand slam Sept. 7, and his three-run shot Tuesday came courtesy of an intentional walk to Cabrera, a strategy that hasn’t been employed by opponent as often this year as last due to the presence of the new DH.
He worked Gavin Floyd back from 0-2 to 3-2 (taking a 3-1 curve in the dirt) and ripped the full-count fastball into the seats in right to conclude the nine-pitch at-bat.
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