DETROIT -- Sitting at his locker on Friday afternoon, Victor Martinez leaned back in his chair and smirked when he was told that Indians manager Terry Francona often compares Jose Ramirez to the Tigers' designated hitter. The smile stemmed from Francona referring to Martinez as one of baseball's premier protection
DETROIT -- Sitting at his locker on Friday afternoon, Victor Martinez leaned back in his chair and smirked when he was told that Indians manager Terry Francona often compares Jose Ramirez to the Tigers' designated hitter. The smile stemmed from Francona referring to Martinez as one of baseball's premier protection hitters.
"Tell Tito I used to be," Martinez quipped.
Age has caught up to aspects of Martinez's game, but in his prime he was one of the game's elite contact hitters, and an imposing switch-hitting bat with occasional power behind slugger Jose Cabrera. That is where Francona sees similarities between Martinez and Ramirez, whom the manager likes to hit fifth behind Tribe slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
The comparison is almost expected at this point. When Francona is asked to explain why he likes to hit Ramirez in the fifth spot, the manager almost always brings up Martinez. The most recent occasion was after Wednesday's win over the Rangers.
"I really like the idea of protecting Edwin with a switch-hitter," Francona said. "You go back and look when Miggy and Victor were really [at the top of their game], Victor was sitting behind him and it just made you think so many times."
In the same way, Francona wants pitchers to think twice about pitching around Encarnacion.
So far this season, the 24-year-old Ramirez has turned in a .321/.376/.556 slash line with 12 home runs, 25 doubles, 36 RBIs and 53 runs scored. The third baseman's splits are relatively even against right-handers (.331 average) and left-handers (.304) this season, and were nearly identical last year (.312 vs. righties and .311 vs. lefties).
Dating back to the start of last year, Ramirez has hit .315/.367/.494 for the Indians. Martinez had a .307/.374/.479 slash line during his peak run from 2004-14. For his career, Ramirez has posted an 88.3-percent contact rate. Martinez has an 88-percent contact rate for his career. Ramirez has an 11.2-percent strikeout rate and 7.4-percent walk rate in his career. Martinez's career marks are 9.2 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively.
"[Martinez] hits from both sides of the plate and it's not ever significantly weaker from one side or the other," Francona said. "He doesn't strike out very often. It's like the ultimate protection. ... There's guys that maybe do more damage, but the consistency of his at-bats are incredible. That's how I feel about Josey. He just hasn't done it as long."
Martinez said he definitely sees similarities between Ramirez and himself as hitters.
"I never saw myself as a power hitter," Martinez said. "I think I see myself a little bit more like him. I was a gap-to-gap hitter. Every once in a while, if the pitcher made a mistake, I'd take him deep. The big difference between him and I was he runs better than I did."
Martinez added that it has been fun to watch Ramirez's evolution on the field.
"He's definitely become a great, great player. He's made a name for himself," Martinez said. "Everything he has done to this point has been great for the Indians' team. Defensively, offensively. He's a really tough guy to get out. It's like every time he steps to the plate, he's going to get a hit -- a double, homer. The kid does it all, man. He plays hard. It's really fun to watch him."
That compliment meant a lot to Ramirez.
"It's really good that he would make that comparison with me," Ramirez said. "He's a superstar."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.