He’s caught up to his usual standards

Martinez is playing regular starring role

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 20, 2010

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Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is going to be, barring injury, the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star Game. He has received the most votes of any major leaguer and holds a commanding lead.

But Victor Martinez has had a better season, offensively at least, and added to it yesterday as the Red Sox beat the Dodgers, 5-4. Martinez drew a walk and scored in the second inning, then in the fourth belted a two-run shot into the Los Angeles bullpen in right field.

The home run came on a 3-and-0 count against Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla. Red Sox manager Terry Francona allowed Martinez to swing and he sat on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. “That’s a beautiful swing,’’ Francona said. “That’s what you do with a 3-0 pitch.’’ Martinez is hitting .295 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs this season. His .851 OPS is tops among all qualifying catchers.

Mauer is having a fine season himself, hitting .305 with 30 RBIs and an OPS of .823. He may get the starting job in Anaheim July 13, but Martinez deserves a spot on the team as well.

“I don’t worry about who has the best numbers,’’ Martinez said. “I just worry about my team, my teammates. That’s it. I have too much to worry about to be worrying about some other guy.’’

For Martinez, the season has been one of great frustration followed by redemption.

Through his first 36 games, Martinez was hitting .227 with 19 RBIs and a .283 on-base percentage. At that point, May 18, the Red Sox were 20-20.

In his last 23 games, Martinez has hit .410 with a .452 on-base percentage and an outrageous .723 slugging percentage. He has 18 extra-base hits and 18 RBIs. Not coincidentally, the Red Sox have improved to 42-28 and moved to within a game of first place in the AL East.

“Victor has been great for us,’’ shortstop Marco Scutaro said. “How many teams have a guy like that catching? Every time he comes up, it seems like he hits the ball hard.’’

But the Red Sox have yet to engage Martinez in talks on a contract extension. Martinez, 31, has expressed an interest in staying since spring training. But there have been no negotiations.

“Nothing yet,’’ he said.

The Sox have a number of promising catchers in the minor leagues and will soon add another once Cuban defector Adalberto Ibarra signs. General manager Theo Epstein does not comment on contract talks, but it appears the Sox are willing to wait until after the season before making a determination on how to proceed with Martinez.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ said Martinez, who was acquired from Cleveland last July. “It’s been almost a year since I’ve been here. They know what I can do.’’

Toughness is certainly not an issue. Martinez took a foul ball off his left big toe May 24 and missed only two games before returning as a pinch hitter and starting the next day. He still has the toe bandaged and has trouble running.

“Maybe I would have some triples,’’ he said, smiling. “But probably not.’’

Martinez struggled with his throwing early in the season, which helped lead to an embarrassingly high number of stolen bases allowed.

The Sox allowed 38 steals in 43 attempts in April, a stretch of 23 games. In the next 47 games, opposing runners have been thrown out 12 of 49 times.

“It’s never going to be perfect,’’ Martinez said. “But we’re stopping the guys we need to stop. I’m proud of that.’’

Martinez also has impressed the Red Sox with his willingness to catch Tim Wakefield and the skill he has shown handling the unpredictable knuckleball.

Wakefield went 6 1/3 innings yesterday, allowing three earned runs. Backup catcher Jason Varitek, one of Martinez’s staunchest defenders, credits his work ethic.

“Victor has put in the time,’’ Varitek said. “Nobody can question that.’’

Martinez has become an important part of the clubhouse fabric. His son, 5-year-old Victor Jr., dresses in full uniform before every game and is often found wrestling with Kevin Youkilis or playing catch with Clay Buchholz.

“It’s always fun when you’re winning,’’ Martinez said. “We don’t really worry about winning and losing. We just make sure we come every day with the same attitude. We play our game and let things happen. All you can control is going out there and giving a great effort.’’

Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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