Martinez chalks 2012 up to learning experience

Martinez chalks 2012 up to learning experience
January 27, 2013, 8:00 am
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J.D. Martinez’s 2012 started the way most of his baseball seasons have started. He was roping the ball.

Martinez, who played sparingly with the Astros in 2011, started last season with the big club and hit .282 in 22 games with 19 RBIs and a .449 slugging percentage through April.

Then he hit a wall.

He hit .192 in May and hit .227 without a homer after the All-Star break until the Astros optioned him to Triple-A on Aug. 10.

“I think I learned a lot,” Martinez said at FanFest on Saturday. “They say you learn twice as much when you fail as you do when you succeed. I know last year was kind of tough. I started off really well and then once I kind of hit a funk it lasted throughout the rest of the year. I really learned a lot about myself, a lot about the game and a lot about who people are and how people treat you and what the game really is.”

Martinez, 25, said his slump wasn’t about a bad batting stance or poor mechanics. It was a problem between his ears, as it normally is with younger baseball players.
 
“I learned so much about myself, which was huge,” Martinez continued. “Learning that this is the major leagues and hitting .300 here is a Hall of Fame type number. For myself, every league, everywhere that I’ve been to I’ve always – in a humble way – have dominated and done really well. I guess I got to this level expecting that. And I know I can do it and I feel that confidence that I can do it.

“There was that certain point where I hit and I felt like pitchers weren’t pitching to me as much. They were kind of more pitching around me and I started struggling a bit and I pressed. I wanted it. I wanted it so bad. And in this game, you can’t want it that bad. You have to just let it come.”

When Martinez’s 2012 season began, he was somewhat of an unknown commodity. Pitchers were happy to throw to him and he was happy to hit them. That’s when pitchers started to pitch and Martinez started to force it.  

And the more Martinez started to think about it, as he spent 23 games with Oklahoma City in the minors, he realized that forcing it wasn’t the way to go. The great players, he said, know how to let success come to them.

“It’s having the ability to deal with the failure than the ability to deal with the success,” said Bo Porter, who’s about to start his first season as Astros manager. “The success … you expect yourself to have success. The problem most young guys have, they don’t expect themselves to fail. When the failure happens, that’s what dominoes into them not being able to play to their ability.”

And how could Martinez expect himself to fail? He was drafted right out of college, in the 36th round, by the Twins. He went to college. Then three years later, he was taken in the 20th round by the Astros.

At every level, he had succeeded. But this was Major League Baseball. This was competition against the best in the world. It wasn’t going to be easy.

“It’s about tempering your expectations and tempering your hunger,” said Martinez, who will head to Spring Training fighting for an outfield job. “Because everyone wants to succeed but the guys who do, let it come to them. They don’t go out and get it, especially in this game. I felt like last year I pressed and that’s what the problem was. I just need to be more mentally tough and be happy with a walk. That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted. I’ve always wanted to hit a double or drive in a run but at this level, they don’t have to give you anything. I feel like I learned a lot in that aspect.”

And it started to show.

Toward the end of last season, he started to swing a hotter bat. He hit .303 in 11 games after being called up in September. He said he had his epiphany too late in the season to really talk about it with his teammates but if they need to hear it at some point this season, he’ll tell them.

“Baseball is more of a mental game,” fellow outfielder Justin Maxwell said, agreeing with his teammate after hearing his thoughts on the learning process. “If everyone reviews them after the game, and reviews them going forward, that’s where you get better.”

Martinez is looking forward to 2013, although he hasn’t fully recovered from a wrist surgery he underwent several months ago. He needed to have the hook of the hamate bone removed, which ended his season a few days before the end of the schedule. Martinez said he’s going to wait until Spring Training to swing a bat to let his hand/wrist heal more.

But even when he’s allowed to swing a bat, he’ll be a little more selective. After all, he didn’t do that learning last year for nothing.

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