By Will Burchfield
The month of May has offered vindication for V-Mart.
The Tigers’ designated hitter swore his dismal numbers in April didn’t reflect the kind of swings he was taking at the plate. Brad Ausmus often said the same thing. Still, when the month came to a close Victor Martinez was hitting .218 with a .557 OPS.
Since then? .360 with a 1.011 OPS and 11 RBI. He clubbed his second home run in the past three games on Thursday, a two-run shot to right that helped the Tigers to a 6-5 win over the Orioles.
“Been a little more luck, finding holes, that’s it,” Martinez said. “You don’t get paid just to put a good swing and hit the ball right at people because at the end of the day, fans, everybody, they’re going to say that you’re struggling. The reality is that if you’re hitting the ball good, right at people, that doesn’t count. Everyone wants results, right?”
No one wanted them in April more badly than Martinez himself. Struggling to find holes in the infield and gaps in the outfield – and, to be honest, not always scolding the ball – V-Mart found himself under intense criticism within the Tigers fan base. Move him down the order, they said. Bench him.
“I didn’t hear it, but I know. I’ve been in this game for a little bit, man — I know. And that’s the thing,” Martinez said. “If you’re really watching the game you might say, ‘Hey, at least he’s hitting the ball hard.’ But there’s zero results. So at the end of the day if you’re hitting .150, .180, what are people going to say? ‘You’re struggling, moving down,’ this and that.
“I control what I can control. What I can control is go out there and be a tough out and put good at-bats in. Whatever happens, happens.”
Brad Ausmus has liked what’s happened of late.
“We needed him to heat up. He was obviously struggling early and slowly came around, now he’s actually driving the ball. You’ve seen a few home runs here lately but he’s hitting balls into the gaps, even some of the outs are to deep center field. So he’s getting his lower half involved and he’s driving it,” said Ausmus.
As the surface stats have begun to swing in V-Mart’s favor, the peripherals have too. His average exit velocity of 91.1 mph is well above the league standard and ranks just outside the top 20 among A.L. hitters. What’s more, his hard-contact rate on batted balls (43.1%) is a career high and nearly five percentage points higher than his mark last year, when Martinez racked up 27 home runs.
The 38-year-old once again looks in control at the plate.
“Let’s try to keep it that way,” he smiled, “for as long as we can.”
There’s a lot to be happy about for Martinez at the moment. On top of finding his groove in the batter’s box and aiding the Tigers on an everyday basis, his wife is about to give birth to their fourth child. Martinez will return home on paternity leave for at least the next three days, likely with a pep in his step — not that his big home run on Thursday afternoon wouldn’t have felt pretty good on its own.
“It’s a great feeling when you do something to help your team win a ball game,” he said. “No matter what, it always make you feel good.”