THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

As a hitter, Martinez flipped the switch

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 22, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — For Victor Martinez, success on a given day is measured by how well the pitcher performs. As a catcher, that has to be the paramount concern.

So while reporters gathered around Red Sox starter John Lackey last night after a 5-1 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies, Martinez sat 10 feet away on a couch, his shoulder wrapped in ice and his eyes downcast.

“A bad night,’’ he said, referring to the four runs Lackey allowed in five innings.

But Martinez, while a catcher, is also one of the most important hitters for the Sox. A switch-hitter who usually bats third, Martinez was expected to give the Sox a season-long boost.

That has not happened until this week. Martinez was 2 for 4 with a home run last night and now has nine hits in his last 20 at-bats, six of them for extra bases, including three home runs.

He has scored six runs in the last five games and watched his batting average climb from .226 to .255.

“I never quit,’’ Martinez said. “I’m going to go out there and give my best effort and grind every at-bat. I’m not going to give any at-bat away, and it’s time to put good swings on the ball.’’

A career .299 hitter coming into the season, Martinez drove in 41 runs in 56 games for the Sox last year after being acquired from Cleveland on July 31. That helped give the Red Sox confidence to fill other needs in the offseason and allow power-hitting left fielder Jason Bay to leave via free agency.

But Martinez started this season with an impatient approach at the plate, lunging at pitches out of the strike zone and making soft contact. That has changed.

“Things have slowed down; his body has slowed down, his hands. He’s not jumping. He was trying to do a little bit too much before,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It’s human nature, trying to hit the ball harder. You can see he looks more relaxed right now, so the bat head comes through a little more. There’s bat speed because he’s not trying to jump. What he does is good enough.’’

Martinez said it’s a matter of swinging at better pitches.

“I’m a lot more selective now,’’ he said. “I’m not getting myself out.’’

Phillies starter Cole Hamels dominated the Red Sox, allowing one run on three hits over seven innings. But Martinez had a good at-bat in the first inning, fouling off two two-strike pitches before pulling a fastball on the inner half of the plate into the left-field stands.

“He’s a good hitter. Guys get to their level. I wish we had three men on when he hit it. He took a good swing,’’ Francona said.

Martinez also had an important at-bat in the ninth inning when he singled to left against reliever Danys Baez. Batting lefthanded, Martinez took a fastball on the outside corner the other way.

It was significant because Martinez came into the game hitting only .189 against righthanded pitchers.

Martinez’s slump led to the Red Sox investigating other options. According to the Denver Post, they have had scouts watching Rhode Island native Chris Iannetta, who was demoted to Triple A in late April by the Rockies and has been hitting .362 since.

But there does not seem to be a match, particularly not with Martinez now starting to hit.

“I don’t think any of us were too worried. Victor has been a great hitter for a long time,’’ third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “He was running into some bad luck before. But now we’re seeing what he can do. It’s huge for us.’’

Martinez was 0 for 5 against the Tigers last Saturday, dropping his batting average to .226. He has been surging since.

“I never lost my confidence,’’ he said. “It’s not the first time it happened to me. The good thing for me is that I’ve been able to get out of it. That’s what makes me keep working hard and see what happens . . . Sooner or later it will come. Hopefully it didn’t come too late.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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