What We Learned From J.D. Martinez’s Fascinating ‘Sox At Sundown’ Interview

When J.D. talks hitting, we listen

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“I don’t worry about socks. I worry about hitting.”

That is a telling quote for Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who, according to teammate Alex Verdugo, is not the flashiest of dressers.

Martinez, as you can see, isn’t really worried about what he’s wearing. His focus, especially at the moment, is on what he can do in the batter’s box to help the Red Sox improve in 2021.

For that to happen, Martinez must improve. His 2020 season was miserable, especially by Martinez’s standards. He’s borderline addicted to the process, which made last season a difficult one for multiple reasons. While Martinez was in the same boat as everyone else, he might have struggled more with Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols, which included a quick ramp-up to an abbreviated season and a banning of in-game video work.

The results were bad. Martinez hit just seven home runs in more than 200 plate appearances, to go along with a .213 batting average and .680 OPS that was 200 points below his career mark.

Martinez revealed earlier this week, however, his 2020 struggles weren’t just because of the protocols. In a fascinating conversation with NESN’s Tom Caron and Jim Rice on “Sox at Sundown,” this week (do yourself a favor and watch the entire interview) Martinez went deep on the process he’s going through to regain the form that made him one of the game’s premier power hitters.

According to Martinez, some of the problems with his swing stem all the way back to an ankle injury suffered in the 2018 World Series. Additionally, Martinez believes not playing much if any outfield over the last two seasons reduced some of his flexibility.

“I feel like, in 2018 when I rolled my ankle in the World Series, I was really scared to rotate my hip with my ankle because it hurt,” Martinez said on the NESN telecast Wednesday night. “The body is the ultimate compensator. I slowly started to come out of my hips and started jumping at the ball without noticing why. All these triggers I used to do didn’t work. I’m sitting here wondering what the heck’s going on and then I come to find out, well, let’s work on my ankle and that would get better and then we tried to grind it.”

Martinez during the interview also hopped into the cage for some swings. That gave a perfect chance to see the work in progress, and prior to the swing below, you can see him trying to activate that back leg and foot — the one he hurt in 2018.

Watch that foot, as he begins the swing and gets through contact, and also notice how the hips stay square until the last possible moment before efficiently rotating through contact.

“You see him coming up off that back toe, and that’s when the hip gets through,” Rice said on the broadcast. “When that back toe doesn’t come up, that hip doesn’t get through.”

Obviously, if the toe bothered him, getting off the back foot would be more difficult.

There’s also the shoulder. When the Red Sox first signed Martinez, it was assumed he’d be a designated hitter. But even back then, Martinez was insistent on wanting to play outfield. He played 57 games in the outfield in 2018, and that number decreased to 38 in ’19 before he played just 52 innings of outfield last season.

“I think the other big thing I realized is my freakin’ shoulder. I stopped throwing and playing outfield and I lost a lot of flexibility in my shoulder,” Martinez explained. ” … if my shoulder is tight I can’t drop into the right slot, and then I have to kind of do the same thing slide off just to get on plane and swing through it.”

He added: “It’s one of those things where when you throw a baseball, you’re always externally rotating and getting that flexibility in the shoulder. … I thought I was fine. The body was great and I felt great, but I just lost some flexibility. One of my strengths is I’ve always been a very mobile, loose guy. I have a lot of mobility, wiry you would say. So I’m able to create a lot of whip and looseness which helps me drive the baseball. I feel like I lost a lot of that, but I dunno, I feel good where I’m at.”

Martinez, who apparently is making flexibility a priority — perhaps there was some hidden meaning that Tom Brady shirt — certainly looks like he’s getting to the ball better and swinging on plane.

Look how fluid this swing is, starting with that slight tap of the bat on the shoulder to start everything in motion. The shoulder stays back and to the naked eye of a layman, it sure looks to be on plane as a balanced Martinez makes square contact.

Of course, there’s still work to be done and looking good in the batting cage doesn’t mean it’s time to start inscribing Martinez’s name on another Silver Slugger Award.

The big takeaway, though, is Martinez sounds confident and it sounds like a light went off. Now 33, he’s obviously getting up there in baseball years, which means it will only get more difficult for him to get and stay loose.

But if Martinez remains committed to the flexibility and feels stronger on his feet, he’s smart enough to know how to put that all together and return to the level of production the Red Sox are accustomed to seeing.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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