Red Sox: J.D. Martinez shows signs of breaking out of spring slump

Jul 12, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, United States; Boston Red Sox left fielder J.D. Martinez (28) watches batting practice during summer practice at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 12, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, United States; Boston Red Sox left fielder J.D. Martinez (28) watches batting practice during summer practice at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez is showing signs of life at the plate

J.D. Martinez has no shortage of explanations for his miserable 2020 season. The Boston Red Sox star designated hitter admits that he was caught off-guard by MLB rushing into a shortened season following months of uncertainty. He struggled to adjust to an altered routine. The temporary rule prohibiting players from watching in-game video of their plate appearances prevented him from making the proper adjustments. Martinez developed some bad habits with his swing that he wasn’t able to identify until after the season.

Those excuses are off the table now. He’s had a full offseason to tinker with his mechanics and baseball has returned to a relatively normal schedule that allows Martinez to get back to his regular routine. He’s eager to prove that last year was a fluke and he’s not the hitter who produced a pitiful .213 batting average and .680 OPS.

Unfortunately, Martinez has done little this spring to wash away the sour taste of last season. He enters the day hitting .237/.286/.289 in 38 at-bats. He hasn’t homered yet and he’s tallied a mere three RBI.

Martinez may have turned a corner with his best performance of the spring on Sunday, going 1-for-1 with a double and two walks. Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed pleased with the effort when discussing Martinez with the media after the game, per MassLive’s Christopher Smith.

"“One thing I keep telling him, ‘We can work on mechanics and all that, but when you go out there, we have to compete,’” Cora said. “And he competes. But at the same time, he wants to clean his swing and work on his thing. At that speed of the game, you can’t do that. It doesn’t matter if it’s February, March or October. When you get into that batter’s box in the big stadium, it’s about competition. He competed well yesterday in the last at-bat. He did today. It’s a good sign.”"

Cora was encouraged by the pair of walks that Martinez drew on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Martinez had only walked once in his previous 13 games but the two free passes in his last outing shows he’s beginning to control the strike zone.

The Red Sox have had a very limited number of their spring training games televised but in the sample we’ve been able to watch, opposing pitchers seem to be attacking Martinez on the outer half of the zone. Martinez didn’t come to camp to take walks, he wants to get his swings in. That may have led to him chasing some pitches he normally would lay off on, which explains the weak contact and lack of walks.

As we inch closer to Opening Day, Martinez is adjusting to a more patient approach that is willing to wait for a pitch to hit rather than hack away in an effort to get in more swings.

The lackluster results have been discouraging for fans eager to see if Martinez will return to form this year but it’s important to note that he historically hasn’t produced strong numbers in spring training (.254/.310/.462). The results in these exhibition games aren’t nearly as important as the work he’s putting in to prepare for when the games begin to count.

His track record of disappointing training camps hasn’t prevented Martinez from hitting the ground running when the season begins. He’s a career .292/.361/.489 hitter in March/April. The power numbers are down a bit early in the season but it’s normal for the home run stroke to take time to come around since the ball travels better when the weather heats up.

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One of the keys to Boston’s success this season rests on Martinez recapturing the form that made him a three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner. We would all feel more confident if Martinez was tearing it up this spring but we shouldn’t overreact to his lack of production so far. If he’s batting .237 heading into May, it might be time to hit the panic button but we’re not there yet.