By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Over his last 21 games, Detroit Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez has 31 hits, including 10 doubles and seven home runs. His batting average over that span is .373.
Over all 45 games Martinez has played for the Tigers, he is hitting .315.
“The last three weeks, he’s been probably our main run producer,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s a guy, at this point, you don’t really want out of the lineup very often, other than maybe give him a rest here and there. His power makes him such a threat that even if he’s not swinging the bat well, pitchers have to be careful with him. He’s been a huge, huge asset these last few weeks.”
The 26-year-old Martinez usually bats fifth, following perennial All-Star Victor Martinez in the lineup. With the elder Martinez out of the lineup recently, the younger Martinez has batted behind two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Martinez said his spot in the order has given his production a serious boost.
“It’s huge,” Martinez said. “It helps a lot. I feel like a lot of the pitchers, they have to worry about those guys, our top-of-the-order guys, and then they get down towards the bottom, middle, end of the order, and it’s like, ‘All right, this is like the easy part of the lineup.’ It just definitely helps.
“By the time they get by Miggy and Vic,” Martinez added, “you’ve pretty much seen every pitch and how he likes to use it and stuff like that.”
Martinez considers it a treat to watch the duo on a daily basis, and he has learned from the approaches of both hitters.
“We talk,” Martinez said. “Victor’s really good about it. Victor really dissects pitchers really well. Miggy has kind of just got that natural thing. He just does it. He really can’t explain it; he just does it. You can’t talk to him because you don’t want to mess him up. You don’t want to get him thinking because he’s good when he doesn’t think, when he just goes out there and plays and is Miggy.”
Martinez keeps a notebook in which he jots down observations about unfamiliar pitchers and records plans on how to attack them, but he does not study video the way the elder Martinez does.
“I used to be like that, but I think my best, when I’m my best, when I was in the minor leagues, and that’s when I was hitting my best, I never looked at video,” Martinez explained. “I would just go out there and see what the pitcher was throwing and make my adjustments in my head and … when I get in the box, if the ball does something else, then I’ll make adjustments from there.”
At the request of the Houston Astros, who ended up cutting him in late March, Martinez reconstructed his swing in the offseason. When the Astros suggested the change, Martinez jumped on board, but he needed someone to take him through the process.
Eventually, Martinez met someone who did exactly that. Martinez will not reveal the man’s name because the individual requested anonymity, but Martinez said his swing would not be what it is without that person’s help. Initially, Martinez was on his own in trying to make a change.
“I just had no one to guide me,” Martinez said. “[The Astros] wanted me to change, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll change – now what?’ No one really took me step-by-step.”
While Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner and assistant hitting coach Darnell Coles work with Martinez now, Martinez’s mystery mentor still keeps an eye on him.
“We talk,” Martinez said. “He’s constantly watching me. If he sees anything, he’ll text me or something like that. We constantly talk, on a daily basis.”
From getting cut by one of the worst teams in baseball to hitting fifth for one of the best teams in baseball, Martinez has kept a level head. Even as a half-dozen reporters gathered around his locker three hours before Wednesday’s game, Martinez laughed off the notion that he has become famous, and he does not even want to start thinking about the statistics that reveal how good he has been at the plate recently.
“I don’t like to think about any of that,” Martinez said. “That’s why I don’t even like hearing that kind of thing. I just like going out there and keeping it simple, worrying about hitting something hard on the barrel. That’s all I try to think about.”