BOSTON — J.D. Martinez is becoming much more than just the most dependable run-producing bat in the Red Sox lineup. He’s becoming one of the most vocal leaders on the team.
This is a transformation that Alex Cora has seen first-hand. On Saturday, following a 4-2 win over the White Sox in which Martinez hit his major league-leading 21st homer and drove in two, the Red Sox manager said he can see the soft-spoken Martinez starting to really become a presence and a leader around a group of younger players still finding their way.
“The cool thing about this past month and these last few weeks, I always talk about baseball talk and how loud it’s getting, he’s taking charge. There are a lot of guys in there and I hope they’re patient with him, as far as they don’t see results right away but when it clicks they’re going to see it.”
As long as Martinez is in the lineup, these Red Sox can overcome just about anything. That includes Eduardo Nunez hitting cleanup for the first time this season and a bottom third of the batting order that featured all three hitters below the Mendoza Line of .200.
With Mookie Betts still biding his time on the disabled list to fully heal his left side and Dustin Pedroia likewise on the sideline with his bothersome knee, the Red Sox have to look for other places to generate offense. Jackie Bradley Jr. did run into a 91-MPH belt-high fastball in the bottom of the second to tie the game.
But the prospects for other sources of offense beyond Martinez, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts weren’t exactly electrifying. Nunez was making his second career start as a cleanup hitter. Sam Travis was batting fifth, followed by Rafael Devers (.229), Christian Vazquez (.199), Blake Swihart (.158) and JBJ (.194).
“This is a young clubhouse, as far as lineup wise,” Martinez told me. “There are a lot of guys just trying to find their way, figure out what works for them. I didn’t have that when I was in Houston, a guy I could kind of lean on, ask questions and kind of talk me off the ledge a little bit. So, I kind of try to do that with some of the guys in here.”
On Friday night, with Martinez off to rest his creaky lower back (apparently due to a hotel mattress in Houston), the Red Sox were blanked 1-0 on a night when Chris Sale threw another gem.
“I think it was kind of one of those things that got tight in Houston,” Martinez said. “It was one of those things where I was battling to loosen up and I kind of kept pushing through it. Knowing Mookie’s out and stuff like that, figured it was just one of those things where if I can fight through it, I’ll fight through it and didn’t give it a chance to rest. And fortunately, Alex gave me the day off (Friday) and it felt better today. It’s one of those things.”
Saturday didn’t get off to a much better start, as the White Sox got to David Price for two early runs and a 2-0 lead in the first. But Price got out of further trouble and his reward was having Martinez pick up the offensive slack that was lacking the last two games.
But against the lowly White Sox, the man who waited and waited and waited to finalize his 5-year, $110 million contract in the offseason, extended majors-leading homer total to 21 and broke a 2-2 tie in the 5th with a perfect opposite field swing on an 0-1 changeup from Carlos Rodon.
“It hasn’t surprised me,” Price said of Martinez, who was with Price in Detroit in 2014. “The hitter he was when I was there in ’14 and the first half of ’15. The entire baseball world saw the type of hitter J.D. was. Obviously, what he did when he got traded from Detroit to Arizona, the numbers he put up. I really don’t feel he’s gotten that hot, as hot as I’ve seen him get. I think we’re all excited he’s here.”
Pure joy. pic.twitter.com/jvzieQadph
— Red Sox (@RedSox) June 9, 2018
Martinez, who also leads the team with 54 RBI, produced Boston’s first run with a groundout in the first (Andrew Benintendi scored from second on a error) after Price put the Red Sox in a 2-0 hole to start the game.
Martinez has been the cure to just about everything for these 2018 Red Sox. And that contract he signed, which includes three player options after 2019, is looking more and more like a bargain for Boston.
The numbers are pretty staggering, considering the historical context. Martinez leads the majors with 54 RBI and 18 games of multiple RBIs. He leads all of baseball with 14 homers, 35 RBI and a .788 slugging percentage at home. His .738 career slugging mark in Boston is the highest at Fenway since 1913, passing Frank Robinson’s .724 number. His eight game-winning homers are the most by any Red Sox player before July since Jim Rice’s 11 in 1978. And he has reached base in his last 25 games at Fenway.
Before losing Thursday to Detroit, 7-2, and Friday, 1-0, their numbers with Betts out had been good and their run production hasn’t slipped, scoring 30 runs in five games with Betts on the DL. But take Martinez out, and the results would not be pretty.
Martinez’s power and production was one of the key reasons the Red Sox felt so comfortable saying goodbye to Hanley Ramirez on May 25.
“Today, I saw him working, helping out Raffy (Rafael Devers), which was great,” Cora said. “There’s no language barrier there. He’s becoming a leader, which is something that comes with the territory. We signed this guy to do what he’s doing offensively but there’s other stuff that comes in (to play) when you sign a contract like that and he’s doing it.”