If anyone has ever hit .344 as quietly as Victor Martinez is doing these days, it’s been somewhere, sometime, in the Sally League.
Certainly not in the big leagues.
Lost in the shuffle of what is looking to be the second straight maddening Tigers season in a row, overshadowed by the coming out of Nick Castellanos, the downfall of Anibal Sanchez, the return to form of Miguel Cabrera and the bursting onto the scene of Michael Fulmer, has been Martinez and his rejuvenation.
Victor is a hitting machine once again, but nobody’s talking about it.
He, like Cabrera, has found his stroke, which—again, like Cabrera—was being suppressed by nagging injuries.
Martinez, normally the Tigers’ DH, shows up, lunch bucket in hand and an encyclopedia of hitting in his brain, gets his two hits and does it all the next day.
His .344 is running second best in the league to Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, who was all of nine years old when Martinez made his big league debut in September of 2002.
Martinez isn’t doing it by slapping infield singles; it takes a cab ride to score him from second base on a single. If you want to score Martinez from first with a double, you have to tie the outfielder’s hands behind his back.
Martinez is probably the slowest man in baseball, and that’s including all of the managers and coaches.
Martinez was never fleet of foot, and when those types are constantly hitting .300 or more (his career mark is .302), it’s a true testament. No cheapies.
Martinez is back to being the Victor of old after an anomaly of a season last year, when his knee wouldn’t cooperate and it affected his stroke more than anyone could have imagined.
The average last year was .245, the lowest, by far, in Martinez’s 14-year big league career. That followed a stellar 2014 (32/103/.335/.409/.565), which made him a finalist for league MVP—and brought a fat contract from owner Mike Ilitch.
This season, Martinez doesn’t at all resemble a 37 year-old on his last leg.
But no one is talking about it, except in passing.
The Internet and the air of sports talk radio are filled with vitriol about the manager (as usual), disappointing Justin Upton, the incendiary (again) bullpen and the travails of Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey.
Nobody leaves a comment or places a phone call to say, “How about that V-Mart!”
But they should.
Martinez bats behind Cabrera, as Victor has for several years now, but unlike in 2015, this year Martinez is actually providing protection for no. 24. Don’t discount the effect of Martinez’s struggles on the non-Miggy season (power-wise) that Cabrera put up last year, even taking into consideration Cabrera’s own physical ailments.
You knew Martinez was back to his old self in the season-opening series in Miami, when Victor clubbed two pinch-hit home runs in successive nights.
What Martinez has done in a Tigers uniform, when it comes to recovering from injuries, is extraordinary. He bounces back like a rubber ball.
After missing the entire 2012 season due to a wrecked knee suffered during winter workouts, Martinez started like molasses in 2013. But after finding his timing and his eye, Victor had a scorching second half of the season to, once again, bat .300 (.301 to be exact).
Now here we are in 2016, three years older, and Martinez is still flicking major injury off his shoulder like it was a gnat.
The power is back (a home run for every 25 AB in 2016, compared to 1:40 in 2015) and Cabrera, not coincidentally, is having a monstrous year once again with a healthy and right V-Mart hitting behind him.
Not that you would know it, because it gets lost in the muck of all the crabbing over the Tigers’ 25-27 start. Martinez, after all, doesn’t pitch.
But to come back from two major injuries at Martinez’s advanced age, and to perform at such a high level in both instances, shouldn’t be overlooked.
If the Tigers were winning, Martinez would likely be getting his props. Winning begets bouquets, while losing brings beefs. That’s just the way it is.
I’ve been following the Tigers for 46 years and I don’t recall a hitter at Martinez’s age ever having performed at such a high level. Even the great Al Kaline, though no slouch at 37, was basically a part-time guy in 1972 and 1973 before becoming the Tigers’ full-time DH in his swan song season of 1974.
But Kaline wasn’t anything at all like what Martinez is now, at Victor’s age.
And Kaline didn’t have to come back from two debilitating injuries.
The Tigers likely won’t do much of anything this year with their pitching staff, as it’s composed right now. The rotation is being saved from complete disarray by a rookie (Fulmer) and the bullpen is, once again, as shaky as a bobblehead.
The offense hasn’t been blameless, either.
But one man has been, for sure, and he wears no. 41.
Not that you’d know it.