J.D. Martinez is going to Los Angeles.
The Red Sox’ designated hitter was originally left off the American League roster for the MLB All-Star Game that will take place next week at Dodger Stadium, but after Astros’ DH Yordan Alvarez pulled out due to a hand injury, Martinez was named as his replacement.
Martinez, who turns 35 in August, entered Tuesday leading the league with 29 doubles while carrying a .313 batting average, his highest since he hit .330 in 2018. He entered June with a .363 average, but has hit just .257 since. And he has just nine home runs, his lowest home run pace since he was still with the Astros in 2013.
After snapping a 22-game homerless drought on Sunday night, he said he’s been frustrated with his power outage.
“At the beginning I didn’t care, but then when you’re about to get to the All-Star break, it’s one of those things,” he said. “I know what it is. It’s not a lack of power or anything like that, because I’m still hitting the ball hard. I’m doing something in my swing that’s causing me to not get the ball in the air as often as I’d like.”
Martinez’s average exit velocity of 90.3 mph is the second-lowest of his career, though it still ranks in the 73rd percentile among MLB regulars.
It’s why he remains one of the best designated hitters in baseball and certainly one deserving of the All-Star nod, the fifth of his career. Four of his All-Star selections have come since signing a $110-million deal with the Red Sox in 2018.
It’ll be very interesting to see what the Red Sox decide to do this winter. The only minor leaguer they have with a big enough bat to consider using as a DH in 2023 is Triston Casas, who is likely to settle in as the team’s regular first baseman at some point. So there will be a need for a slugger on the free agent market, especially if the Red Sox let Xander Bogaerts go to free agency and sign with somebody else.
Jose Abreu, Michael Brantley, Trey Mancini, Miguel Sano, Anthony Rizzo, Max Muncy, Brandon Belt, Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell are among the first basemen/DH-types who are eligible for free agency as well.
But there’s little doubt Martinez earned his salary over his four-plus years in Boston now. His .912 OPS as a Red Sox has been elite, ranking seventh among qualified big leaguers in that time. The only guys better, in order, have been Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge and Freddie Freeman, all six of who are either being paid as, or will soon be paid as one of the best players in the game.
Unlike the six of them, Martinez has no position. But with all 30 teams now using the DH, he’s sure to haul in another big contract if he finishes the year healthy.
The Red Sox had little choice but to option top pitching prospect Brayan Bello back to Triple-A Worcester to make room for Chris Sale on the active roster.
Bello’s performance made it an easy decision.
BOSTON MA – July 6: Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during his Major League Baseball debut against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 6, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
The 23-year-old looked overmatched in both of his big league starts. But it wasn’t all bad. His final two innings against the Rays on Monday night were his best, and it’s because the Sox recognized they needed to move his fastball around. It sat in the high-90s all night, but looked quite hittable as four of the five hardest balls hit off him came against fastballs.
“After the third inning, you could see it, we went with the fastball in other places and used it a little bit more,” Cora told reporters in Tampa.
Bello probably won’t be needed again for a while, as Garrett Whitlock and Nathan Eovaldi are close to rejoining the Sox’ pitching staff, with Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and James Paxton also due back at some point this year.
Rafael Devers returned to the Sox’ lineup against the Rays on Tuesday, marking the first time since Friday that he’s been on the field after he re-aggravated a back injury. He was being used as the DH while Martinez got the night off.
Kiké Hernandez (hip flexor strain) was pulled off his rehab assignment, Cora told reporters in Tampa. Hernandez played just one game on assignment with Worcester and felt sore the next day, prompting the Sox to put it on pause.
Casas returned to the field for the first time since May 15, as he began a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League.