'You have to move on and grow': Former Tiger J.D. Martinez in a good place with Red Sox

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Former Tiger J.D. Martinez has a major-league leading 20 home runs and 52 RBIs with the Red Sox this season.

Boston — The emotions weren’t as heavy as he thought they might’ve been. Maybe too much time has passed since he wore the Old English D. Maybe it’ll be tougher when he comes back to Comerica Park in July.

But for J.D. Martinez, facing the Tigers for the first time since they traded him last July, it was just — different.

“I mean, obviously it’s different being on the other side from those guys,” he said before the game Wednesday. “Seeing them over there, you kind of just want to go over and mess around with Miggy and Vic and those guys.

“But, it’s something you just have to move on from and try to grow from.”

Martinez punished his former team in the first game of the series Tuesday. He blasted a 431-foot home run in his first at-bat. He also had a single and scored three times.

“It was tough at first, leaving there,” he said. “That was home. But you’ve got to continue to move on. You’ve got to find a way to be successful. My time in Arizona was great. It was fun. The guys there were awesome. And coming here (to Boston), it’s been the same thing.

“It’s a younger clubhouse. Guys are hungry for information. It’s just been fun.”

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In a sense, Martinez is paying forward the mentoring and guidance he got when he slugged his way into the Tigers’ lineup in 2014. Those covering the Red Sox say he’s had a strong influence on players like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and others.

“He was probably, as far as people I’ve been around, as locked in as anybody,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who was the bench coach at Arizona last year. “His work habits were probably some of the best I’d ever seen; his work habits on every at-bat.

“I firmly believe that he just never gave away an at-bat. If he made an easy out, it just chewed on him. He was impressive.”

A lot of that focus, that attention to detail, the strict, almost maniacal adherence to his daily routine, he developed when he was with the Tigers.

“I was always focused, but I didn’t know what to focus on,” he said. “Going to Detroit, I grew up a little bit, just watching Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez and Miggy (Cabrera), Ian Kinsler, all those guys. I saw how they went about their business and I said, ‘That’s what I should be working on. That’s what I should be giving my attention to.’”

There was the swing change, of course. And the notebooks he kept, detailing every pitch he’d seen from every pitcher he faced. The relentless work in the cage. He’s brought all of that to Boston.

“I love the game,” he said. “I love everything about it. I love the studying, the chess game you have to play against your opponent, the chess game you have to play against yourself. You are just continually grinding on it.”

Martinez became the first hitter in the major leagues to reach 20 home runs Tuesday. His 52 RBIs also leads baseball. His OPS (1.036) and slugging percentage (.659) rank third. In his last 162 games entering play Wednesday, he’s posted 58 home runs and 142 RBIs.

He was asked if he’s ever been this hot at the plate.

“I don’t know,” he said. “September was pretty good.”

Yeah, pretty good. He hit 16 home runs, knocked in 36 runs and had a slash-line of .404/.439/.970 with a 1.40 OPS. Ridiculously good. And it feels like he hasn’t slowed down any.

“Really, it’s just continuing to grow,” he said. “It’s different. This is a different clubhouse, different expectations, I feel like. It’s good.”

His time in Detroit is etched on his heart, he’s made no secret of that. But, that said, he looks across and sees a lot of young, unfamiliar faces in Tigers uniforms, he looks at his team’s 42-19 record and legitimate playoff aspirations and knows he’s in a good spot.

“They are in that rebuilding process right now,” he said. “But they have good ownership. Al (Avila, general manager) is great. I think definitely in time they will be back on their feet and back to being the way they were.”

In the meantime, he's hunting a World Series ring.