BALTIMORE — How did J.D. Martinez go from a light-hitting corner outfielder to one of the game’s elite sluggers, someone who on Tuesday night blasted the 200th home run of his career in an 8-5 Red Sox victory over the Orioles? Let Julio Martinez offer some insight.
Julio Martinez, J.D.’s dad, is with his son in Baltimore. On Monday night, after a Red Sox loss, the son did not take his 0 for 4 lightly.
Through the night and into the early morning, J.D. Martinez relied on his father as a sounding board, frustrated by the night, frustrated that, despite ranking among the American League leaders in batting average and on-base percentage, he had just four homers on the season and none against righthanders.
“He puts a lot of time into this — constantly, 24/7. Trust me on that,” said Julio Martinez. “I was up last night with him until about 2 in the morning.”
The two talked hitting, because that is what J.D. Martinez does — he works, talks, and breathes hitting with whomever is prepared to listen or to offer counsel. That’s true now, just as it was when Martinez was a player without a profile, peeled off the 40-man roster and ultimately released by the Astros because he lacked the offensive skill set of a prototypical corner outfielder.
Few players have ever undergone the sort of mid-career transformation achieved by Martinez. In 2013, Martinez — who averaged 15 homers per 162 games in his first three big league seasons with the Astros — wouldn’t have believed he was capable of becoming a middle-of-the-order force who, since 2014, has averaged one homer for every four games — or roughly 40 for every 162 contests.
Did Martinez ever consider such lofty power numbers attainable?
“No. I can’t even lie about it. I remember idolizing those guys and being like, “Dude, how does that guy hit the ball so far all of the time?’ ” said Martinez. “When I started doing things similar to them . . . I started hitting balls that I never thought I’d hit. I was like, ‘Dude, what the heck?’ That was when the lights came on for me and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that but I know that I feel confident that I can hit 30 home runs a season.’ Because I progressed and just got smarter as a hitter and started learning, it became kind of what it’s become.”
At times, Martinez makes that process sound almost effortless. It wasn’t. Few hitters are capable of overhauling their swings with such precision of purpose and mechanics as Martinez in the winter of 2013-14. Yet few are so insatiable in their commitment to work in the face of adversity — a trait that reflects a lifetime of lessons.
“I guess what we taught him all through life, all through the years, you never quit, you never give up. A man is not looked at for how many times he falls but for how many times he gets up,” said Julio Martinez. “That’s my philosophy, and that’s the way he thinks about it.”
Recent stretches of the 2019 season had offered Martinez cause for some frustration. Entering Tuesday, he’d gone 15 straight games without a homer — his longest drought since his offensive reinvention after the 2013 season — and he had more plate appearances (117) against righthanders without a homer than any player in the majors.
Both struggles ended when he demolished a first-pitch fastball from Baltimore’s David Hess in the first inning, depositing the ball in the bullpen beyond the fence in center field, some 416 feet from home plate, for his fifth round-tripper of the year and the 200th of his career.
Martinez reached that plateau in his 957th game, making him the seventh-fastest active big leaguer to reach 200 homers. Only Giancarlo Stanton, Albert Pujols, Chris Davis, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, and Khris Davis arrived at the landmark faster. Yet while Martinez had the milestone ball in his possession, he relished the thought that it would not be his last.
“It’s obviously an accomplishment in my career,” said Martinez. “My career is not over yet and I feel like there’s more.”
There were more, certainly, for the Sox on Tuesday night against the Orioles.
The teams exchanged homers early. Rio Ruiz (3) countered Martinez’s homer with a tying, two-run blast of his own in the bottom of the first, and Xander Bogaerts (7) and Hanser Alberto (2) volleyed solo homers in the fourth to leave the game knotted, 3-3. One inning later, Mitch Moreland — batting cleanup for the first time in 2019 — blasted an opposite-field, three-run homer in the fifth off of righthander Branden Kline to give the Red Sox a 6-3 lead they would never relinquish.
The mix of power and patience — the Red Sox walked eight times — allowed the team to follow a formula that has yielded considerable recent success. The Sox are averaging 7.1 runs over a nine-game stretch in which they’ve gone 7-2.
Tuesday’s uprising made a winner of Marcus Walden (5-0), whose three innings of one-run ball (after a three-inning, two-run effort from starter Hector Velazquez) from the fourth through sixth innings gave him a major league-high fifth victory in relief. Brandon Workman had a perfect seventh; he’s held opposing hitters 0 for 25 since April 17.
“Amazing,” said manager Alex Cora. “Outstanding.”
Though Ryan Brasier gave up a pair of runs while recording just two outs in the eighth, Matt Barnes came on to record a four-out save, his second of the year. With that win, J.D. and Julio Martinez were positioned to savor a milestone together, a reflection of the values that permitted a startling career transformation.
“Reality hasn’t sunk in over the years yet,” said Julio Martinez. “We’ve come a long way. I never thought we would be here, but it’s been a great ride.”