Tigers slugger lays down first career bunt single against Tribe's shift
By Jordan Horrobin
DETROIT -- Victor Martinez drew one of the loudest cheers from the Comerica Park crowd Monday with a hit that didn't even leave the infield. For the first time in his 15-year, 6,500-plus at-bat career, Martinez successfully laid a bunt down for a hit during the Tigers' 7-1 win over the Indians.
"It was a lot of fun," said Martinez, who was all smiles at his locker as he recalled the play.
Martinez, a switch-hitter who frequently pulls the ball, was staring down a heavy shift to the right side of the infield as he stood in the batter's box to lead off the fifth inning. He'd already doubled and grounded out to second, but this time, as Cleveland starting pitcher Trevor Bauer began his windup, Martinez figured he'd try something new.
"I was like, ah, I'm going for it,'" he said. "My heart was like boom-boom-boom-boom."
Bauer threw a high fastball on the inner half of the plate, above the strike zone. But Martinez had already mentally committed, so he stuck the barrel of his bat up and redirected the ball down onto the infield grass.
The Indians had shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez playing on either side of second base as if they were middle infielders in double-play depth. By the time Ramirez got to the bunt -- at the vacated position by third -- Martinez was already safely on first.
"If they played me like that, I would do the same thing," Lindor said.
Martinez, 38, said he doesn't know why he chose that particular at-bat. It was only the second bunt attempt of his career. The other was in 2005, when he played for Cleveland.
On Monday, his unexpected decision drew laughter and cheers from the Detroit dugout.
"Oh yeah, I saw it," Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris said. "That was awesome. Doing what you gotta do."
The bunt was part of a well-balanced offensive night for Martinez, who doubled to left-center in the first, and singled through the shift-created hole in the eighth.
The double was a low fastball over the middle that shot into the gap, while the single was a changeup above the knee on the outer edge of the plate. The shift was on for all five of his at-bats, and will almost certainly be back Tuesday.
"I don't care how they play me," Martinez said. "That doesn't really affect my approach. I'm honestly just trying to hit the ball where it's pitched."
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus noticed just that from his designated hitter, who's batting .239 but has six hits in his past four games. Ausmus said he talked to Martinez after the game, and believes he's getting out of the "pull mode" he'd been in for a little while.
"What they're giving him, he's taking advantage of," Ausmus said. "I thought a couple days ago, he was starting to turn a corner. And I think, I firmly expect that you're gonna see Victor Martinez swing the bat a lot better."
Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.