April 22nd, 2013

Victor Martinez: “I have no excuses”

Spring Training wasn’t really that long ago, was it?

That’s when Victor Martinez seemed like he hadn’t missed a beat, let alone a season. His timing at the plate appeared fine back then, though he dipped into a slump in the final week of camp. Even when he wasn’t getting hits, he was making solid contact. He ended up batting .253 (19-for-75). The one thing missing was power (three doubles and one home run out of 19 hits), but that wasn’t a particular worry given the time he had missed.

After 66 at-bats over the first three weeks of the regular season, Martinez is batting .167 (11-for-66) .182 (12-for-66 after his hard-hit grounder that hit off M’s shortstop Brendan Ryan Wednesday was changed from an E6 to a single). His one extra-base hit was a double in his three-hit game at Seattle. After making consistent contact all month, he struck out five times in the three-game series against the Angels.

He does not, however, want to hear about a lost season and trying to get his timing back.

“I have no excuses,” Martinez said.

That said, Martinez feels like he has been swinging the bat better than the results would suggest.

“I can’t really control what happens after I hit the ball,” Martinez said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball good.”

He definitely had some well-hit outs on the opening homestand, flying out to the warning track in the home opener and getting robbed of a hit on a line drive to Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner the next day. After going hitless the day after that, he cut open his thumb on the bat rack. He also flew out twice to the left-field warning track in Seattle on Wednesday.

His at-bat with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Sunday suggests he’s still putting good at-bats together. He fouled back three fastballs and worked into a 2-2 count after falling into an 0-2 hole. He couldn’t center one of them to send back up the middle, instead flying out to left.

It’s early, but so far, Martinez is seeing a higher percentage of fastballs than he has in the past, about nine percent over 2011 according to fangraphs. Some of that could simply be a product of the pitchers he’s facing or the early-season cold weather that prompts some pitchers to go to the fastball and try to jam hitters, but some could also be a part of the strategy against him early on.

Make no mistake, the Tigers are going to give Martinez every opportunity to get his timing back this season. Whether he hits for power is almost irrelevant; remember, he drove in 103 runs two years ago with just 12 home runs but 40 doubles. Remember, too, that it doesn’t take much run production to provide an upgrade over what Detroit received from the DH spot last season. Still, a productive Martinez is better than the vast majority of designated hitters in the league, which is all the more reason to give him time to get there.

Dotel still dealing with elbow inflammation

The Tigers did not have an effective Octavio Dotel the last time they had to stretch their bullpen into extra innings Wednesday at Seattle.

On Sunday, they didn’t have Dotel at all.

If they don’t have him available for their next game Tuesday against the Royals, there’s some serious question whether they can go short-handed in their bullpen again.

Going into Sunday’s series finale against the Angels, Dotel was supposedly available to pitch. The Tigers had some question about how effectively he has been pitching lately after missing games last weekend with elbow inflammation, but he has available to pitch.

After a 4-3 loss, however, in which right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo ended it with a walkoff homer off left-hander Phil Coke, manager Jim Leyland summed up Dotel’s status with two words: Not available.

He didn’t get more specific than that, and he didn’t answer questions about any possible roster move. Dotel admitted a few minutes later that the elbow was an issue again.

“The inflammation’s still there,” Dotel said. “It doesn’t go away. We’re just going to see how it will be on Tuesday.”

Dotel downplayed the injury a bit, saying it isn’t pain but swelling.

“I haven’t gotten the swelling to go away,” he said. “It’s still there. I’m just trying to get through that, but it’s still there and hopefully we just found out a way to get out.”

Dotel has pitched just 4 2/3 innings over six outings so far this year, so it’s a small sample size, but his average fastball velocity is down about three miles per hour from last year according to fangraphs.com. That said, the Tigers have been bringing him along slowly since spring because of his limited work in Spring Training and during the World Baseball Classic, and his next birthday will begin with the number 4. Still, he has never averaged less than 91 mph on his fastball during a season; he’s currently averaging 89.5.

Dotel last pitched Friday. His hope is that by Tuesday, three days of rest will have cleared up the swelling. If it hasn’t, the Tigers probably have a decision to make. Unlike last weekend, they can’t skip Rick Porcello for a start and put him in the bullpen for a few days. The best they could do is push his start back by a day.

Because Dotel pitched Friday, the Tigers could only backdate a move to the disabled list by a few days, meaning they’d still have to shelve him for close to two weeks. If Leyland feels they need a full bullpen against the Royals, they might have little choice.

If they did make a DL move, the question of who would replace Dotel could be interesting. Would they promote Bruce Rondon this early in the season for what would almost surely not be a closing role? Would they move their other relievers up and add Luis Marte or Luke Putkonen as a middle reliever? Don’t rule out the possibility of the Tigers signing Jose Valverde to a Major League contract and promoting him, either; if they’ve seen enough of his stuff to believe he can pitch and fill a void for them, it might not matter how much minor league time he has so far.