Minneapolis — It was a little before 9 a.m. Wednesday morning when Victor Martinez and Tigers strength and conditioning coach Chris Walter walked out to the warning track in left field, set up some cones and began doing a series of agility drills.
Martinez had a rough night Tuesday. The 39-year-old, playing in his final big-league season, hit into two double plays. One, second baseman Brian Dozier started with a diving stop to his right, flipping the ball from his belly. The relay throw to first got Martinez by a step.
Later, he hit a ball to Dozier’s left, just to the right of first baseman Logan Morrison. Dozier made the long throw to second and the Twins still got Martinez at first.
In his final at-bat, Martinez blasted a ball off the wall in left field, and was held to a single.
Just three years ago, he would’ve beat out both double-play balls and had a stand-up double. If you know how proud and competitive Martinez is, you know those three plays, the way they exposed his lack of speed, hurt him. Thus, the early agility work Wednesday morning.
“He’s been through a lot with his knees,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You go through things, being in the game as long as he has, especially as a catcher all those years, all the squatting he did. Yeah, he’s not fast anymore.
“I worry about his ankle. He’s had some ankle problems. I worry about all that. But he’s a trooper and he’s feeling good and he’s swinging it good.”
He is swinging the bat well, but he’s not being rewarded. Tuesday night was an example of what he’s dealt with all season. He’s hitting the ball hard, often into the teeth of extreme shifts. He’s entered play Wednesday hitting .234 with a .366 slugging percentage — far off his career standard (.297, .460).
But, according to FanGraphs.com, his hard-hit rate is a career-best 43.8 percent, meaning nearly 44 percent of the balls he's put in play have been hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph.
That’s 13th-best in the American League.
And yet, his batting average on balls in play is only .238 — 77th in the American League.
Gardenhire was contemplating giving him Wednesday off. Martinez wanted no part of that.
“I sat down at his locker last night after the game,” Gardenhire said. “I asked him about today and he said he wanted to play. We have a day off Thursday and he’s feeling great. He’s seeing the ball really good. He said, ‘I want to play.’
“I said, ‘Perfect.’ That makes it easier for me. I don’t have to worry about the DH spot. I am happy about that because day games after night games are the ones that give him trouble.”
Martinez rewarded him by knocking in the Tigers’ first run with a sacrifice fly and producing a pair of singles in the Tigers' 4-1 victory.
One of Gardenhire’s missions this season, was to keep veterans Martinez and Miguel Cabrera enthused and engaged, regardless of the win-loss record. So far, the mission has been a success.
“Victor is happy,” Gardenhire said. “That’s one of the things we wanted — that our veterans enjoyed this and they put forth the effort and things like that, and they are doing it. They are doing everything we’ve asked.
“Victor and Miggy are really big attitudes in that clubhouse for us.”
Positive attitudes so far.