By: Will Burchfield
Look across Major League Baseball, and it’s hard to find a hitter struggling more than Victor Martinez. But whenever he’s in the Tigers lineup – and he won’t be on Thursday afternoon versus the Rays – Martinez bats cleanup.
For the time being, manager Brad Ausmus is standing by him.
“Certainly it’s too quick (to make a change) now, so we gotta give him some more time,” Ausmus told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
Through 14 games, the 38-year-old Martinez is hitting .204 with a .490 OPS. He doesn’t have a single extra-base hit. That’d be a damning line for any player, but it’s exponentially more so for a guy whose sole job is to hit. That he bats cleanup and has the third most plate appearances on the team only makes matters worse.
Martinez will get his first off-day of the season on Thursday as Ausmus looks to reinvigorate the veteran heading into a weekend series versus the Twins.
“Hopefully he gets some fresh legs under him and when we get to Minnesota, or if he has to pinch hit, he’s ready to go,” Ausmus said.
Among the 131 players with at least 55 plate appearances this season, V-Mart ranks 124th in OPS. It bears mention that he’s not the only notable name at the bottom of this chart. Chicago’s Jose Abreu ranks 122nd (.496), New York’s Curtis Granderson ranks 127th (.450) and Toronto’s Jose Bautista ranks 129th (.415).
Martinez also has some interesting company in extra-base hit purgatory. Among the 172 players with at least 50 plate appearances, only he and Joe Mauer have yet to break through.
The caveat attached to all of this, of course, is that it’s only April 20.
Plus, Aumus thinks Martinez is beginning to come around.
“He’s actually swung the bat a lot better the last few games in Cleveland and here (in Tampa Bay). He’s taken better swings. I know the results haven’t been exactly what everyone wants, but he looks better at the plate,” said Ausmus.
Martinez went 1-5 on Wednesday night, drove in two runs and hit a ball to the warning track in left field. At this point, you take progress wherever you can find it.
For now, hitting Martinez cleanup isn’t indefensible. It’s early, he has the track record to warrant the manager’s faith and, perhaps most critically, the alternatives don’t inspire a whole lot of optimism. Justin Upton aside – and even he hasn’t been great – it’s not like V-Mart is stealing at-bats from a host of sluggers.
But things will get interesting and urgent when J.D. Martinez returns, likely in late April or early May. If V-Mart wants to keep his spot in the four hole, he better prove he belongs there in the next couple weeks.