So here's the lineup that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons trotted out for Tuesday's eventual 7-2 win over the Angels (box score) ...
One thing to note is that Kevin Pillar is back from the disabled list, which is good thing for Toronto's purposes. Another thing to note -- and the one that's relevant for our purposes -- is that Russell Martin batted cleanup for the fifth straight game out of 11 times overall this season and was in the DH spot for the first time in 2016. It says something that Gibbons put Martin in the four-hole yet again, and it said even more that he put him in the bat-only role of DH. Martin, of course, is a skilled defensive catcher, but Gibbons, partly in the interest of giving Martin some rest (among AL catchers, only KC warhorse Salvador Perez has more innings behind the plate than Martin does in 2016). This also signals a deep confidence in the hitting skills of a player who not so long ago was trapped in deep struggles.
At the end of April, Martin, in this, his age-33 season, was batting .150/.224/.167. As recently as May 22, Martin had a bottom-feeding line of .172/.237/.180. Since those first 135 plate appearances, though, Martin has put together a line of .282/.391/.532. Oh, and that's not counting his performance against the Angels on Tuesday night, in which he went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk. Suffice it to say, that's outstanding production, especially by catcher standards. He's been even better than that in the second half.
Over the course of his 11-year major-league career, Martin's shown pretty steady monthly splits at the plate, so it's not as though he's an established slow-starter. In the case of 2016, some random noise was probably at work, but mostly it's that Martin was dealing with significant neck problems early in the season. In fact, Martin in late April almost went on the DL because of neck spasms, but ultimately player and team decided the "pain threshold of a veteran catcher" would hold sway. So it did. But it surely affected him at the plate. Here's what Gibbons said at the end of April, via MLB.com's Gregor Chisolm:
"He's not 100 percent, that's for sure. He's gutting it out, really is what he's doing. But you can tell he's favouring it, but he helps us so much, defensively, we'll sacrifice a little bit of offence for that."
And a few days later ...
Russell Martin has 31 Ks in 64 ABs. That's double last year's K%. Neck affecting hitting? Gibbons said "That I can guarantee you" #BlueJays— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) May 3, 2016
Martin in April struck out in a whopping 46.3 percent of his plate appearances, which is a fairly horrifying figure. Basically, Martin was striking as much as a hypothetical hitter who faces Aroldis Chapman every time up. Since the start of May, though, his strikeout percentages have been in the 20s, which is in line with his recent norms.
As well, a hitter with a debilitating neck injury probably doesn't do this to a Trevor Bauer fastball ...
So, yes, Martin is back and hitting the ball at a vintage level and then some. Provided he stays healthy, the Jays figure to have another productive bat in the lineup as they try to return to the postseason. How productive? Say, one worthy of being an occasional cleanup-hitting DH.