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V-Mart vital for Tigers' banged-up lineup

Martinez delivering with RISP, still missing extra-base pop
MLB.com @beckjason

MINNEAPOLIS -- The ball seared the gap in left-center at spacious Target Field, sending Eddie Rosario and Danny Santana chasing as Nicholas Castellanos came in. Statcast™ registered it at 102.9 mph off the bat. Victor Martinez rumbled into second base, his 38-year-old legs moving at their own velocity.

It sounds like an ordinary hit in Sunday's 13-4 Tigers victory. But it was Martinez's first extra-base hit of 2017, three weeks into the season.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The ball seared the gap in left-center at spacious Target Field, sending Eddie Rosario and Danny Santana chasing as Nicholas Castellanos came in. Statcast™ registered it at 102.9 mph off the bat. Victor Martinez rumbled into second base, his 38-year-old legs moving at their own velocity.

It sounds like an ordinary hit in Sunday's 13-4 Tigers victory. But it was Martinez's first extra-base hit of 2017, three weeks into the season.

And as the Tigers head into the heart of their schedule without Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, and with a patchwork lineup that has included recent Toledo Mud Hens Jim Adduci and John Hicks, they need more of this from Martinez.

Martinez has had slow starts before. He had one extra-base hit in April 2015 as well, and that was a double mixed in with his .231 average for the month. However, Martinez was dealing with the aftereffects of knee surgery then, as well as playing through a partially torn meniscus. Last year, he hit .329 (25-for-76) with nine doubles, five homers and 18 RBIs in April.

All indications have been that Martinez is healthy now, just aging. And for that, manager Brad Ausmus conditions his start.

"It's a little misleading," Ausmus said Sunday morning, "because he's actually hit some balls that would be extra-base hits if he wasn't the runner. And the truth is, if he's got guys on base and he hits those balls, they end up scoring, even though it's a single for him.

"He hit a ball in Cleveland [a week ago] that short-hopped the center-field wall. It was a single for him, and it would have been a double for anybody else. So it's a little misleading. He's obviously a better hitter than he's shown so far."

Martinez is 7-for-17 (.412) with runners in scoring position but without an extra-base hit. At the same time, those seven hits and a sacrifice fly have accounted for eight RBIs.

Statcast™ shows Martinez hitting the ball a little harder than his results would suggest but still off his norms. He has an average exit velocity of 89.2 mph on balls put in play this year. That ranks Martinez 60th among Major League players with at least 40 at-bats. Last April, he was at 92.1 mph for the month, ranking 47th. In April 2015, Martinez averaged an 85 mph exit velocity, ranking 180th.

Sunday's double was Martinez's12th ball in play with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph. He had another earlier with a 101.9 mph ground ball up the middle for an RBI single. But a lot of those have been ground balls, making it more a matter of launch angle than exit velocity. With defenses shifted against Martinez, he is paying for ground balls regardless of how hard they're hit.

Video: DET@MIN: Martinez smacks RBI grounder up the middle

Martinez's ratio of 0.93 ground balls to fly balls is well above his career ratio of 0.76, and nearly 50 percent higher than his 0.64 ratio from last year. Still, he's hitting line drives with 27 percent of the balls he has put in play, right in line with recent seasons.

"He's inconsistent right now with his swing," Ausmus said. "He has some good at-bats, some days where he looks good and then other days where he looks like he's trying to add on a little bit."

Those numbers, plus Martinez's track record, afford him a good amount of patience in the cleanup spot, as does the fact that Detroit is missing other veteran hitters right now. Ausmus has always liked having the switch-hitter batting cleanup in a heavily right-handed lineup, and he isn't changing that anytime soon.

"I expect that he'll start hitting here soon or later," Ausmus said before Sunday's game. "But obviously if he didn't, we might have to do something different."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez