Detroit Tigers' J.D. Martinez connects for a single to drive in two runs during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox. ASSOCIATED PRESS
DETROIT — J.D. Martinez started this season slowly, striking out six times in his first 10 at-bats with the Mud Hens.
Toledo manager Larry Parrish said he was not worried, saying, “It was a classic example of a guy pressing and trying to do too much."
Parrish was right.
Martinez tripled in his next game, homered in the game that followed, and never stopped hitting. In fact, Martinez slugged 10 home runs in 17 games for the Hens. Even though he was promoted to Detroit on April 21, he still leads the International League in home runs.
“He’s got a very live bat,” Parrish said of Martinez. “The good hitters have a different sound when they hit the ball — and he has that sound. Even in batting practice, it makes a different noise. It also doesn’t come down; it keeps carrying.”
Martinez originally was drafted by Houston in 2009 and worked his way up to the majors two years later. He spent a majority of the last two seasons with the Astros, but fought through a hand injury in 2012 and wrist problems last year.
"I would start out well, and then something would happen," Martinez said. "They were fluke injuries that you just can't control, that was the most frustrating thing about it."
Houston took Martinez off its 40-man roster last November, then released him during spring training.
"They were going in a direction where then needed guys to perform right away," he said. "With my injuries, they just didn't want to take the chance, I guess.
"They gave me an opportunity early in my career, and I give them thanks for that. But it was a situation where they had a different plan, and I just didn't fit in."
While many baseball observers may have been surprised the Miami native signed with the Tigers, Martinez said the criteria for the decision was simple.
"I just wanted to go to a team that wanted me," he said. "I know they have tried to trade for me a couple of times, and that showed that they liked me and really wanted me.
"When I talked to my agent, he advised me to sign with a team that wants me. As I talked to my agent and my family, I realized the Tigers were [the right choice]. I could blink me eyes, and I would be in a World Series. What better opportunity is there than that?"
Martinez said he made some changes to his swing to produce more power.
“When I hit now, I feel like I hit always hit the ball on the barrel,” he said. “Before, I used to square the ball up, but it was a line drive that would fall and be a double or single. Now I feel like they aren't staying down, they're going up. Everything is in the air now.”
So Martinez was not discouraged by his slow start in Toledo.
"I felt I hit three that had a chance, and I got nothing," he said. "When I talked to [Toledo hitting coach Leon] Bull [Durham], he said, ‘Just keep doing what you're doing.’
"You don't want to manipulate your swing, because that's how you get away from a good approach."
That good approach resulted in a .308 batting average, 10 home runs, 22 RBIs — and a promotion to Detroit.
"It was satisfying to get called up," Martinez said. "[Detroit] has a great team, so when I got called up I though ‘I am going to do anything I can to help my team.’"
While Martinez was a key cog in the middle of the Mud Hens lineup, he said his secondary role in Detroit has helped him relax and hit .269 in his nine games with the Tigers. While he does not have a homer in Detroit this year, he does have six RBIs.
"There might be a little bit of individual pressure, to find my role on this team to help it win," Martinez admitted. "But I don’t feel pressure on this team.
"In the two weeks I’ve been up here, the team has been winning. And it’s always fun when you win."