By: Will Burchfield
Before his on-field interview after the Tigers’ 10-5 win over the Red Sox on Sunday, the red-hot J.D. Martinez made one request: no questions about his numbers, please.
So let’s talk about them now.
Since returning from the disabled listed on August 3, Martinez is batting .441 with a gargantuan 1.30 OPS. He has clubbed six homers and driven in 11 runs in that span, almost single-handedly carrying the Tigers’ offense. There is no hotter hitter in the American League right now than J.D., who kicked off his comeback with that dramatic homerun off Chris Sale and hasn’t looked back.
Asked about his right-fielder’s emphatic return to the lineup, Brad Ausmus was at a loss for words.
“I don’t think you can necessarily explain those things. Maybe it means Spring Training is too long. Really, I couldn’t give you an explanation other than he’s immediately found his groove,” the manager said.
For the Tigers, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Though the offense was crackling upon Martinez’ return, it has cooled off since, with the Tigers scoring barely three runs per game in their past 18. That, coupled with a shaky bullpen, has sent the team into an August tailspin – a tailspin that could have been a flat-out freefall without Martinez.
Prior to Martinez’s return, Ausmus talked about this exact effect.
“A lot of times when a couple bats are struggling, a bat like J.D. can cover for them,” he said.
And his words have proved prophetic.
“He’s been outstanding as a piece of the offense, he’s been a lot of the offense since he’s returned,” Ausmus said. “He’s been as hot as he can be.”
More than anything else, Martinez’ presence in the Tigers’ lineup extends the batting order. His comeback has been partly offset by the loss of Nick Castellanos, of course, but a 3-4-5 trio of Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and J.D. is as good as any in the league.
Even with V-Mart getting a day off on Sunday, the dual threat of Miggy and J.D. was easy to appreciate. With runners on second and third and two outs in the third inning, the Red Sox chose to intentionally walk Cabrera to face Martinez. Despite his hot bat, Martinez wasn’t surprised by Boston’s decision.
“If I was in their shoes I’d walk [Cabrera] too. In my eyes that’s the best hitter on the planet. I’m not going to take my chances with him, I’m going to put him on and take my chances with whoever’s behind him,” he said.
The man behind him was Martinez, of course, who promptly (and somewhat fortuitously) bounced a double down the first-base line, bringing home two Tigers and spurring a five-run rally.
“It’s pick your poison there: Miggy or J.D.,” Ausmus said.
“He kind of cued it off the end of the bat but sometimes you gotta get a little lucky.”
In case anyone was doubting the legitimacy of his hot streak, Martinez lashed a double off the left-field wall two innings later. There was nothing lucky about that.
And there has been nothing lucky about his triumphant return. Martinez might not want to talk about it, lest a jinx come over his bat, but the Tigers are extremely fortunate to have their number-five hitter back in the fold.