J.D. Martinez has received mostly positive attention in his first season with the Tigers for his offense and his defense. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Chicago — If not the hitting, it’s been the pitching.
And sometimes it’s been the defense.
In any given game lately for the Tigers during their 6-15 skid since they were 27-12, something has gone wrong that’s not chronically been wrong before.
That’s been the nature of the slump, which Tuesday night’s postponement at U.S. Cellular Field prevented from looking better or getting worse.
The Tigers plug a hole here, they spring a leak there. It’s been a multi-faceted challenge.
What befell J.D. Martinez in left field in Monday night’s 6-5 loss to the White Sox was a case in point.
Nothing seemed to go right for him — other than his two hits — until the eighth inning when Martinez reached far into the stands down the left-field line to make a catch of Adam Eaton’s long foul ball.
It was an excellent catch — after a night Martinez would just as soon forget.
On three other plays, Martinez ranged from being too aggressive, to being fooled by the dip a line drive took, to making a last-gasp wave at a ball at the wall he had no chance of catching.
Until Monday’s game, however, Martinez hadn’t drawn much, if any, negative attention to himself defensively. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Manager Brad Ausmus said Martinez has been a pleasant surprise — better as an outfielder than the scouting reports forecast he would be.
Better, in fact, than third-base coach Dave Clark remembered him being in Houston — where Martinez played and Clark coached before this season.
And while not exactly a gazelle in left, or having anywhere near the speed that Rajai Davis has an outfielder, he had played well.
Then along came one of those nights ...
In fact, that’s what Martinez said along the way to Austin Jackson.
“We were running in after the second of those balls was hit, and I said, “Looks like it’s going to be one of those nights, huh, Jack?”
Martinez didn’t mind discussing what happened on all three plays, though.
*The leadoff triple by Adam Eaton in the first that he dove for, didn’t catch, then had to run after as it kept rolling toward the wall.
“I had him played exactly where I wanted to be,” Martinez said, “over and in, and it was one of those line drives that if it stays up for another foot, I lay out and catch it. But as soon as I was about to lay out, it’s diving. And now I’m caught in the in-between, because I’m leaving my feet.
“I’ve always been taught to be aggressive early in the game. That’s when you take your chances. Lay out for a ball. In that situation, I thought the ball was going to stay up a little bit, but at the last second, it dove.”
So at the last second, Martinez didn’t.
“Instead of diving for it,” he said, “I kind of slid for it, hoping to block it.”
But it got past him. Eaton ended up scoring the first White Sox run.
*Dayan Viciedo’s two-out liner to left in the fourth that Martinez said he catches “99 times out of 100” but didn’t catch this time.
That error was followed by one at first, generating a first-and-third threat. But it was one that starter Rick Porcello got out of.
“When a sinkerballer is on the mound,” Martinez said, “you have to be ready as a left fielder, because they’ll be hitting the ball to you. But a lot of times, a sinker will be hit as a liner that also sinks. When that ball was coming at me, I knew I had it, but it bit and sank.
“That’s a tough play, man, but I make that catch. As I said, 99 times out of 100, I make that catch.”
* Gordon Beckham’s ground-rule double to deep left in the fifth.
Martinez made a rather inelegant leap for the ball, knowing he probably wouldn’t catch it — and the lack of style points probably made it look like a clumsier attempt than it was.
But it was worth a try.
“That ball was hit well,” Martinez said. “I wasn’t going to catch it, but I just kind of jumped up and gave it my best anyway.”
The catch down the line at least allowed his night to end on an upbeat note defensively.
“Again, I went after it aggressively,” Martinez said. “That’s the way I like to be. But it was just one of those nights where I didn’t make all the plays I wanted to make.
“And I hate that. I take it personally — because to prevent a run is like driving in a run.”