Tigers' J.D. Martinez: Hitting ahead of Miggy not so easy

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
J.D. Martinez doubled and homered in Saturday's win over the White Sox.

Detroit -- Just by the numbers, J.D. Martinez adapted well to batting second in the Tigers lineup.

By feeling, though, it wasn't as smooth of a transition.

"I just feel more comfortable in the 5," Martinez, nursing a yogurt, said in a quiet clubhouse ahead of Sunday's series finale against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. "I've been in the 5 so long.

"The 2, I was always grabbing a bat. I'd think I'm always on-deck."

Martinez was back batting fifth again Sunday, for the second consecutive game, after batting second since late April.

Cameron Maybin was back batting second again Sunday, and while manager Brad Ausmus wouldn't commit to that beyond the last couple games, it's clear that's the direction he's leaning for now.

Martinez batting second had an OPS of .821 in 33 games, with nine homers and 23 RBIs. Batting fifth, the batting average and on-base percentage are higher, but the OPS has been lower, at .796, with three homers and eight RBIs in 16 games.

He had a huge home run to rally the Tigers past the White Sox and Chris Sale in Saturday's 7-4 win, and had an RBI double.

The home run helped make a winner out of Mike Pelfrey for his first time as a Tiger, and a winner for the first time at all since last August, when he was with the Minnesota Twins.

"It feels good," said Martinez, "to help anybody win a game."

Ausmus has tinkered with the lineup a fair amount more this year than he did last year.

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Justin Upton started the season batting second, and that was a disaster -- as has been, frankly, Upton's entire first season with the Tigers; he has 75 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances (36 percent).

Upton was down to seventh in the lineup for Sunday's game, the lowest he's hit in a starting lineup since 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Asked if he likes Martinez back in the 5 spot, Ausmus quipped, "When he's hitting, I do."

Maybin had three hits in Saturday's win, as he continues his amazing start to his second stint with the Tigers.

Ausmus conceded again Sunday that Maybin isn't the ideal No. 2 hitter for a couple reasons. For starters, Ausmus likes an RBI guy in the No. 2 spot, not a contact guy. Plus, Maybin at No. 2 could limit one of his greatest weapons -- his speed. With Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez up afterward, it's tough to steal, vacating first base and giving the opposing pitchers little incentive to give Cabrera anything to hit.

In theory, hitting in front of Cabrera should be a joy. And for many, like Torii Hunter, it sure was. Martinez figured it'd be a peach for him, too, getting all these fat pitches to tee off on, with Cabrera lurking on deck. But a strange thing happened. Those fat pitches never really materialized.

"That's what I was thinking, too," Martinez said. "That's the thing. I don't know if you get better pitches in front of Miguel Cabrera.

"They were guessing I'd be more aggressive ... so they were still scared to throw the ball over the plate."

Martinez has a strikeout rate of 30 percent batting second this season, and 19 percent batting fifth.

Around the horn

Anibal Sanchez has been available out of the bullpen the last couple games, and was to be again Sunday, though Ausmus hasn't called on him yet. Ausmus said he'd like to get the demoted starter in for low-stress situations to start; problem is, he wants to get struggling Mark Lowe work in the same type of scenarios, and there might not be enough to go around.

Ausmus said Sanchez has thrown multiple side sessions since his last start, though the manager hadn't observed any of them.

... Tigers radio man Jim Price showed up Sunday bragging, "I've lost two pounds!"

The secret: He got a really short haircut.

... It's an ugly forecast as the Tigers try to get in Sunday's series finale. They probably won't wait too long if they need to call it, with Chicago having two more scheduled trips to Detroit, both in August.

... Former Tigers center fielder Chet Lemon was to be honored before Sunday's game as recipient of the Willie Horton African American Legacy Award.


Series: Three games, Monday-Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: 7:10 Monday-Tuesday, 1:10 Wednesday

TV/radio: All three games on FSD/97.1

Series probables: Monday -- LHP J.A. Happ (6-2, 3.06) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (5-1, 3.24); Tuesday -- RHP Aaron Sanchez (5-1, 2.99) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (0-1, 3.94); Wednesday -- RHP R.A. Dickey (3-6, 4.21) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-2, 2.58)

Scouting report

Happ, Blue Jays: This is the fourth consecutive left-handed starter the Tigers will face. Signed to a three-year, $36-million deal in the offseason, he's pitched well, with quality starts in 10 out of his 11 games.

Fulmer, Tigers: There have been few Tigers pitchers over the years to start their careers as well as Fulmer. He's improving just about every start, allowing five, four, three and two hits his last four outings.