J.D. Martinez already hitting his groove

LAKELAND, Fla. -- J.D. Martinez says he doesn’t put too much stock in spring training numbers, which is too bad after a day like the one he had on Thursday.

The 28-year-old slugger, who led the Tigers last season with 38 home runs, went deep three times in Detroit’s 10-6 win over the New York Yankees. What’s more, he hit a home run to each field -- a display of both his offensive prowess and his versatility.


“No, not with him,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “As a matter of fact, I’d be more surprised if he pulled it than if he went the opposite way with it.”

Martinez, who signed a two-year contract extension before camp, has racked up seven home runs this spring. They count for nothing once the season starts, but if this early production is a harbinger for things to come, then the Tigers will be thrilled.

Batting fifth, Martinez rounds out a heart of the order that is among the most dangerous in baseball. With Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton at the top of the lineup, Miguel Cabrera hitting third and designated hitter Victor Martinez batting cleanup, Detroit has the potential to give opposing pitchers fits.

And after J.D. Martinez’s performance last season, pitchers can’t afford to overlook him. He already feels he is being pitched differently, and that took some getting used to while he was gaining his timing back this spring.

“Throughout the spring, I felt like I was kind of searching, for myself and my swing. It’s just different. It’s hard," Martinez said. "I’d come in and right off the bat, pitchers are starting me with ... early in spring it was a lot of breaking pitches right off the bat, so it took me kind of a while to -- how can I put it -- recognize it and slow it down, but not panic on the fastball.”

At first, fastballs felt like they were coming at him at 150 mph, but he has since adjusted and regained his composure at the plate. The batting cage rat that he is, Martinez still has a number of things he wants to work on, but he feels like he’s pretty close to being dialed in for the regular season.

“It’s kind of hard to say you’re not when you have a day like today,” Martinez said.

Bullpen spot still up for grabs: There is one competition still to be determined by the Tigers, with the last spot in the bullpen up for grabs between Logan Kensing and Lendy Castillo. Both players would have been considered long shots coming into camp, but they have impressed the team’s brass and coaching staff with strong performances this spring.

Both Kensing and Castillo pitched on Thursday, with Kensing gaining an edge based on the day’s performance. While Castillo gave up a two-run homer to Austin Romine in two innings, Kensing, a 33-year-old journeyman, held the Yankees to two hits and struck out three in two innings. Ausmus said he liked the movement on Kensing's fastball.

Whereas Castillo is more of a power pitcher, Kensing brings MLB experience to the table with 154 career games.

The Tigers have until Sunday to finalize their roster. The other six bullpen jobs essentially are wrapped up: Drew VerHagen, Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez.

Furry friends: Justin Verlander and his girlfriend, supermodel/actress Kate Upton, hosted a pet adoption event at the stadium on Thursday, in conjunction with the Tigers and Wins for Warriors. The event also will feature an online silent auction with autographed memorabilia benefiting the SPCA of Florida and the K9s for Warriors.