J.D.'s quietly strong year not lost on Ausmus

Tigers' manager impressed by outfielder's strides in field as well as at plate

J.D.'s quietly strong year not lost on Ausmus

DETROIT -- While answering a question on Wednesday about Yoenis Cespedes' All-Star candidacy, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus paused to support another one of his players.

"Really, we probably have a right fielder that's an All-Star, as well," Ausmus said.

That would be J.D. Martinez, who entered Thursday -- the final day of voting -- with the fourth-best on-base plus slugging percentage of any American League outfielder. He was batting .281/.335/.538 with 20 home runs, tied for third in the AL, but as of the most recent voting update, Martinez was ninth among AL outfielders with 3,145,200 votes.

Martinez bolstered his All-Star argument with a three-run, eighth-inning homer in Thursday's 8-4 loss to the Pirates that cut Pittsburgh's lead to one run.

"When he got here, he started hitting homers, and he hasn't stopped," Ausmus said of Martinez on Thursday. "The power to right-center -- it makes a different sound, and it travels as far as just about anybody in the game."

The manager even compared Martinez's "tremendous" power to that of Kirk Gibson -- and the legendary Tiger, who was sitting in the room, chuckled at the comparison.

"I was yanking them to that 305 upper deck," Gibson retorted.

J.D. Martinez's running catch

Martinez hit 11 homers in June, when he batted .290 with 26 RBIs, earning the organization's Player of the Month distinction.

Martinez began July on a similar note. In Wednesday's 9-3 loss to the Pirates, he went 3-for-4 and showcased his improving defensive abilities, too, with a running catch at the wall. That play culminated in Martinez's second outfield assist of the night, a new career high.

J.D. Martinez cuts down Mercer

And that's all a little strange to Ausmus, who spoke at length on Thursday about how he believes players will generally perform at the level of their career averages over the course of a season. Martinez, who was released by the Astros following a poor Spring Training last year, hasn't followed that trend.

"You don't see guys get let go and then have a renaissance like this very often -- [especially] at a relatively young age," Ausmus said.

In 2014, Martinez hit .315 as a regular starter for the Tigers but was substituted out for a better defender in nearly a quarter of his games. The average has dipped this season, but it has been accompanied by his improved outfield play, plus an uptick in power.

"It's a nice feeling to know you can hit the ball out the other way, because that keeps the mechanics of your swing intact," Ausmus said.

Alejandro Zúñiga is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByAZuniga. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.