Outfielder brings hot bat to bigs after homering four times in Triple-A twin bill
DETROIT -- The Tigers' bench is back to full strength, now with a little bit more power on it.
"He has that ability to drive the ball over the wall, which is a thing we don't have a ton of on this team," manager Brad Ausmus said of J.D. Martinez, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Toledo on Monday.
The Tigers have 13 home runs for the season, all of them from eight regulars in their starting lineup. Martinez joined the Tigers on Monday having hit 10 home runs at Triple-A Toledo, including four in a doubleheader on Saturday.
"It was a fun day," Martinez said. "It's not really a day you can schedule for. I kind of just showed up, no BP, and played. It's just one of those things you kind of black out."
Martinez takes the roster spot of right-handed reliever Luke Putkonen, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. To make room on the 40-man roster, Detroit transferred Andy Dirks from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, a procedural move since Dirks isn't expected back until June after undergoing back surgery in March.
It was Dirks' injury that opened up this role on the team, first for rookie Tyler Collins. What was expected to be a platoon role in left field with Rajai Davis, however, morphed into more of a reserve role when Davis got off to a hot start.
They've gotten hits from their outfielders, but not an abundance of power. On a team that has had Don Kelly as its primary pinch-hitter for the first three weeks of the season, the opportunity to add a power bat to the ranks won out. It was the reason the Tigers moved quickly to sign Martinez after the Astros released him on March 22, and the reason the Tigers promoted him so soon.
Nobody in Minor League ball at any level has hit as many home runs as Martinez did this season. The 26-year-old South Florida native spent parts of three seasons with the Astros, batting .251 with 24 homers and 126 RBIs in 252 games, before the Astros released him. The Tigers, who had trade interest in Martinez last winter, had the framework of a contract that day and had him in their Minor League camp two days later.
"Everything happens for a reason," Martinez said. "I was just as excited when Detroit picked me up. There was a team that really wanted me. I'm super excited about the opportunity and to be in this clubhouse. When I look around, I'm in shock at the players that are in here."
At Triple-A, he went 20-for-65 (.308), with half of his hits leaving the yard. Martinez put up a three-homer game over seven innings for the Mud Hens in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday at Columbus, then added another homer in his first at-bat of the nightcap. The four home runs came on four different types of pitches.
Martinez credits a revamped swing he put together last fall at the encouragement of Astros coaches to make better contact, then broke out in winter ball in Venezuela.
"Those first couple weeks, I just wanted to pull my hair out," Martinez said. "I knew that it would pay dividends down the road. I just kept staying focused and staying positive. It took me a while, but I feel like I finally got accustomed to it, and now it's second nature, like my old swing.
Ezequiel Carrera, who made a big impression on Tigers coaches in Spring Training and is batting .364 (24-for-66) at Toledo, was an equally strong candidate, but he has just seven extra-base hits.
Though Martinez bats right-handed, the vast majority of his damage at Toledo came off right-handed pitching, batting 18-for-49 (.367) with nine homers and 19 RBIs, compared with a 2-for-16 showing and a lone homer off lefties. Fitting, then, that he won't have a lefty-killer role in Detroit.
"He's going to get starts against right-handed pitching. That's just a simple fact," Ausmus said. "Really, the spot to spell the most would either be [right fielder] Torii [Hunter] or Rajai, but they're also both righties."