DETROIT--The Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is one of the toughest hitters to strike out in the league this season. In 65 at-bats, Martinez has put up a solid .308/.361/.492 and has struck out only twice as of April 23.
The performance Martinez has given this season is a stark contrast to last April, when he completed the month hitting .221/.290/.274 in 95 at-bats with five runs, 21 hits, five doubles, nine RBI, and no home runs.
He had 10 base-on-balls, was intentionally walked once and had been struck out 12 times. He had two sacrifice flies to his name and no stolen bases to speak of.
With one week remaining in the month of April, Martinez has driven in five runs, has 20 hits, three doubles, seven RBI and three home runs.
Martinez has six base-on-balls, has been walked intentionally three times and been struck out only twice. He has been credited with a sacrifice fly and stole his first base on April 22, all in 35 fewer plate appearances.
Martinez's ability to consistently get exceptional at-bats is attributed to his patience and careful calculation at the plate. He is a consistent, even-keeled hitter.
"This guy is 100 percent concentrated on every single pitch he sees," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of Martinez. "I don't know that I've ever come across that. And it's hard to do every single pitch for 600 plate appearances."
After missing a full season to knee surgery, it took Martinez a good half portion of the 2013 season to get comfortable hitting again. But it is not something he has to contend with this season and it shows.
What makes Martinez's approach work so well is his ability use his skills to reach base safely six ways from Sunday with calculated regularity. "(Martinez) is a professional hitter. Very few people I've come across never give up on any particular pitch at any particular count," Ausmus said.
Many switch hitters have a sharp contrast in hitting when batting on one side of the plate versus the other, but despite the struggles Martinez faced in the first half of the 2013 season, the difference wasn't overwhelming.
Last year, when batting left-handed Martinez hit for an average of .314 while as a right-handed hitter he produced a .279 average. So far this year, Martinez is hitting .294 as a lefty and .357 as a righty which does show a larger contrast, but there is a reason for it.
The tempestuous weather and a contributing choppy Tigers schedule made for a rough initial three weeks of the season. Add the fact that the Tigers have faced six left-handed pitches versus 11 right-handed pitchers and there is going to be a measure of difference.
Martinez has essentially picked up where he left off in 2013. During Wednesday's game against the Chicago White Sox, Martinez got two hits and has now hit safely in eight of his last nine games. And to put the icing on the cake, the leadoff hit in the bottom of the ninth that Martinez smoked happened to be his 1,500th career hit.
Ausmus summed up Martinez's abilities Wednesday night following his 1,500th hit. "It's really remarkable the concentration and the focus he has every single time the pitcher throws the ball. It's remarkable, really. He never lets up."
Martinez finished two-for-four in Wednesday night's loss to the White Sox and his performance at the plate bumped up his average yet again, pushing it over the .300 mark. Because of his consistency, Martinez has done a more than adequate job taking over the all important cleanup role once again.
The job of protecting Cabrera had not been Martinez's since 2011 because Prince Fielder had taken over that role. While there was no marked difference offensively from Miguel Cabrera as a result of the change there were questions that Martinez could take on the role of protecting Cabrera adequately.
It's a protection Martinez says does not even exist, and the numbers Cabrera put up in 2011 (.344) versus 2012 (.330) and 2013 (.348) when Fielder occupied that spot reflect as such. "It doesn't matter who you put behind Miggy. (Cabrera) is his own protection," Martinez said.
That being said, Martinez has done an exceptional job of getting himself on base. His ability at the plate is as consistent as the days of the week and for Martinez, the 2014 season is shaping up to be very productive early on.