After tough '20, it's 'back to the lab' for J.D.

September 26th, 2020

Friday was the opener of the final three-game series for the Red Sox in 2020. is basically counting those games down. Can you blame him?

The slugger was one of MLB’s most productive hitters for six consecutive seasons before hitting a giant pothole amid this pandemic-shortened season of 60 games. Now, Martinez looks forward to getting back to his home in Miami to do what he’s done in the past to fix hitting issues: Diagnose the issues and repair them.

“I have my checklist. I know the things I want to work on. It's just getting back to the lab,” Martinez said.

Keep in mind that Martinez is a player who had the resolve to become one of the best hitters in the game after the Astros released him in 2014. Working his way out of adversity is just what Martinez does, and he is pretty sure he will be able to do it again.

“I’m going to go back to work, really,” Martinez said. “I’m going to go back to training, and I’m just going to get back to my routine, really and just actually have ... an offseason to prepare and [hopefully] not be stuck in my house under quarantine for two months. I don’t know. I’m just waiting for everything to go back to normal, really.”

In essence, Martinez has felt what many people around the world have felt during the year 2020 -- and that’s out of sorts.

“I’ve [stunk]. I haven’t been very good. I feel like I’m not in the boat alone,” Martinez said. “I feel like there’s a lot of really, really good players and a lot of really, really good talent out there that have had the same season, if not worse than me. I think it’s just a very weird year. You’re expected to perform at elite levels when there’s an entire epidemic going on in the world. It’s not really an excuse, but it’s tough. It’s a lot to ask.”

One thing Martinez’s tough season (.217/.293/.389 with six homers in 222 plate appearances entering Friday) has done is take away any realistic chance that he would exercise his opt-out clause. Instead, Martinez is all but certain to come back and claim his $19.35 million salary in 2021. He has another opt-out after '21 heading into the fifth and final season of his contract with the Red Sox.

“I don’t know. I guess that’s up to [agent] Scott [Boras], but I think given the situation and everything, I’m probably not leaning that way,” Martinez said.

Fixing his hitting issues occupies far more of Martinez’s head space than thoughts about his contract. At least he believes he knows what the issue is.

“My hips. It’s been obvious to me all year,” Martinez said. “It’s just, as of late, I’ve been feeling better. I feel like I have a little bit more control of them. It’s like, I think I’m doing the right move. I don’t know if I’m doing the right move, and I’m like, 'OK, I think I have my hips. I think I’m doing it right.'

“[Batting practice] will feel great, then I go in the game and I'm like, 'OK, well, I'm just going to ride this out, because I think that's what the move is. That's what it looked like in BP.' But then I'll go in the game and I'll do the move all day, and after the game, I go look at it and I'm like, 'Great, I just wasted the entire day because I didn't do the move from the first at-bat. I just threw away four at-bats.' That's been the most frustrating part.”

In a way, it is more frustrating for Martinez that he knows what the issue is and still hasn’t been able to fix it. And he knows the poor alignment with his hips are the reason he’s not catching up to the fastball.

“One hundred percent. Hip slides, everything slides. You cut distance to the ball, and all of a sudden the fastball is doing this, your hips are doing this and that's what happens,” said Martinez. “It's holding them back. Keeping them controlled. I've had very mobile hips, very loose hips and they've been kind of out of control. It's something I'm aware of, and it's something I'm excited to get to the offseason and just grind the hell out of it.”