Why Gardenhire Won't Sit V-Mart In Favor Of Younger Players

"He’s riding it out, and these young players look up to him."

Will Burchfield
July 11, 2018 - 12:03 pm

© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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Ron Gardenhire wrote out the Tigers' lineup for Wednesday's series finale versus Tampa Bay, and penciled 39-year-old Victor Martinez right back in the five spot. That's likely how it will go for the rest of this season. 

Despite Martinez's feeble numbers at the plate, Gardenhire doesn't envision sitting him down -- or moving him down -- in favor of younger players. 

"No, he's gonna play," Gardenhire told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. 

Martinez, who's in the final year of a contract that pays him $18 million annually, has batted third, fourth or fifth in all 75 of his starts this season. That's despite the fact he ranks last among designated hitters in home runs (4), RBI (29), slugging (.316) and OPS (.608). His average is .240. 

Gardenhire has slid him out of the cleanup spot of late to make room for the hot-hitting Niko Goodrum in the top third of the order, but it's unlikely V-Mart will hit any lower than fifth. 

"Our (alternative) options just aren’t there," Gardenhire said. "He at least puts together veteran at-bats and gets some base hits for us. And we kind of need him out there. You just need him being around right now because we got so many young guys still trying to learn this game." 

In what's likely the final season of his 16-year career, Martinez has turned into a mentor in the Tigers' clubhouse. He's meant a lot, in particular, to slumping 24-year-old Jeimer Candelario.

The five-time All-Star seems to be taking it all in as his days in the big leagues dwindle, his struggles notwithstanding. 

"He’s riding it out, and these young players look up to him," said Gardenhire. "He may not be getting all the hits, but he’s hit a lot of balls hard at people. He’s not driving the ball anymore, but goodness gracious, you gotta give him a break on that. I mean, his age is up there, and he means a lot to the club." 

Martinez has indeed been the victim of some poor luck this season. His line-drive rate actually ranks third among DHs, ahead of the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion, but his batting average on balls in play is just .254. (The league average is about .300). That owes in large part to the defensive shifts teams employ against Martinez, especially when he's hitting from the left side. 

"The shift has taken a few hits away from me. If I would have those hits right now, instead of hitting .230 I would be hitting close to .300," Martinez said in a candid interview last week. "But it is what it is. I'm just going out there and whenever I see the pitch, I just swing the bat." 

As simple as it may seem for Martinez to break the shift by hitting the ball to the opposite field, it's anything but easy when pitchers are busting him with fastballs in on the hands. 

"At the end of the day, they're gonna throw you 95, 97 miles per hour inside and you're trying to hit the ball the other way, I want to know how to do it," Martinez said. "You can try, yes, but you must tell (clubhouse manager Jim) Schmakel to have a lot of bats for you because you're going to break a lot of bats." 

If there's a young player in the Tigers' system who Martinez is blocking, it's 24-year-old slugger Christin Stewart. Ranked second among Tigers prospects per fangraphs.com, Stewart is tied for first with 15 home runs in the Triple-A International League this season. But the outfielder has a long ways to go defensively, and the Tigers don't want to bring him up to the big leagues as a designated hitter. 

Their DH, for now, will remain V-Mart. And if this is indeed his final season, Martinez has no regrets. 

"I'm gonna miss the game, I'm gonna miss being around my teammates and stuff, but you gotta be honest with yourself. Your body is not the same," he said. "You wish you could play until you're 50, but it is what it is, man. You're not getting younger, you're getting older.

"I look back and one thing that I'll say is, as a kid coming up and watching Major League Baseball on the TV, I never thought I was going to play one year in the big leagues. For me to be in this spot that I am right now, man, I'm real happy. I will leave this game with no regrets."