ARLINGTON, Texas — Red Sox manager Alex Cora fully embraces the idea of giving even his best players regular days off. He feels some extra rest in April, May, and June makes for better production in September and beyond.
Most managers believe that to be true. Players are valuable to their teams and wearing them down is bad for business. It’s better to be cautious.
Kansas City second baseman Whit Merrifield has the longest active streak of consecutive games with 332. Cal Ripken Jr. isn’t losing any sleep over that.
So when J.D. Martinez came out of Thursday night’s game against the Texas Rangers with a migraine headache that sent pain down to his neck, Cora was quick to say he’d be out of the lineup on Friday.
It was just the excuse the manager needed to get his designated hitter off his feet with two more games remaining on the road trip.
But when the Sox posted their lineup on Friday afternoon, there was Martinez, hitting third as usual. Then he went 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBIs in a 6-1 victory.
Martinez stopped by Cora’s office on Thursday well after the game and said his symptoms had passed and he didn’t need time off.
Cora still wanted to be cautious.
“No, no, no, I’ll be fine,” Martinez said. “I’m in, I’ll be fine.”
Martinez followed that up with a text message early Friday morning and Cora agreed to cancel the day off.
“You’ve got to trust your players, right?” Cora said. “He’s not going to lie to us. If he’s feeling dizzy or has a migraine he’s not going to try to compete that way. That was an easy one, 100 percent.”
The barrage started in the first inning after Texas starter Kohei Arihara, a rookie from Japan, walked Christian Arroyo and Alex Verdugo on 12 pitches.
The righthander seemed determined to get ahead of Martinez and threw a first-pitch slider over the plate. Martinez sent it over the fence in left field.
“I’m just ready to hit,” he said. “When you have guys on base, especially early in the game, you’ve got to be up there ready to hit. Just up there trusting my eyes.”
Xander Bogaerts followed with a home run and it was 4-0.
Martinez came up again in the third inning and drilled a splitter that stayed up 440 feet to center field for his major league-leading ninth home run.
Martinez, who also leads the majors with 25 RBIs, settled for a single in the fifth inning.
Martinez is the fourth Red Sox player with nine home runs before May 1. Manny Ramirez (nine in 2001), David Ortiz (10 in 2006), and Hanley Ramirez (10 in 2015) are the others.
Martinez hit .213 with seven homers in 54 games last season. Pandemic baseball and protocols didn’t allow for his usual routine of getting to the ballpark early in the day to prepare for games.
It was more than not being able to watch video of prior at-bats during games. Martinez just never got comfortable and with the team collapsing around him, it was a lost cause.
“It’s an all-day process for his swing,” Cora said. “He feels better physically and he’s in a better place with his mechanics.”
A .351 batting average offers proof of that. Martinez is back to being a power hitter who also hits for average, a linchpin in the lineup.
“He is that good,” Cora said. “He’s on a mission.”
In only 375 games with the Sox, Martinez already has 95 home runs. That’s 33rd in Red Sox history. Outside of last season, he’s been everything the Sox hoped for when they signed him.
Nate Eovaldi, who took the mound with a 4-0 lead, benefited from Martinez’s big night.
“To watch him get back to what he does best, last year obviously was a fluke for him,” Eovaldi said. “To be able to see him overcome that and go out there — he’s one of the best hitters out there in the league.
“To have him on our team, on our side, hitting the way he is now, it’s awesome to see. I think everybody feeds off that.”