J.D. Martinez might be playing his final game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Monday.
The RedHawks' regular season finale, a Labor Day matinee at 11 a.m. against Round Rock, might be the final tuneup for a talented outfielder. Martinez skipped Triple-A last season but was sent to Oklahoma City by the Houston Astros a month ago after he experienced the first extended slump of his professional career.
Martinez has been tweaking his swing and plans to return to the majors for good next season.
“Obviously, I was disappointed at first,” Martinez said. “Once you go up, you never want to go back (to the minors). I got a little down. It took me a couple of days to put it behind me. And then it was time to go to work, spend a lot of time in the (batting) cage and grind things out.”
RedHawks interim manager Tom Lawless coached Martinez last season in Double-A Corpus Christi before Martinez was promoted to Houston.
“Players understand it's a game of performance at the big league level,” Lawless said. “If you don't perform, they're going to find someone who can perform. In J.D.'s case, he always hit at every level. He never failed. Now he's failed.
“It's all mental. A lot of guys hit the wall in A-ball, or they fail in Double-A before they rebound and figure it out. He never had that. He failed at the Major League level. That's a tough thing to do to come back down and jump start. It may take a little time.”
Martinez compiled dazzling stats last year in Double-A. He also had some success with the Astros, batting .274 with six home runs and 35 RBIs.
This season, he hit .235 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in 102 games for Houston before being assigned to Oklahoma City in early August.
Martinez's stats haven't improved with the RedHawks, but he feels he's made progress.
“It's going well,” Martinez said. “I'm just trying to iron some things out, work on things you can't do up there. At that level it's all about winning. In the minor leagues you can work on things. We've been trying to shorten my swing, spread out (my stance) a little.”
Martinez said he might have tried to do too much during the offseason.
“I changed some things in my swing that maybe I shouldn't have changed,” Martinez said. “Last year was good. I just have to mature as a hitter instead of trying to reinvent myself. Now that I've experienced it, I can work on things to get better.”
With the Triple-A season nearly over, the Astros haven't announced whether they'll recall Martinez when rosters expanded in September.
“He's a hitter,” Lawless said. “He's strong. He can hit the ball in the gaps and hit home runs. There aren't many guys like J.D. who can hit a baseball like he can. It's just a matter of getting back to doing that consistently. He hit almost .280 in the big leagues. You don't forget how to hit.”
Lawless said players can get of their comfort zone, try harder and fail.
“It's just a matter of relaxing, seeing the ball and hitting the ball,” Lawless said.
A long list of Major League players have experienced the same process. They've returned to the minors to make the necessary adjustments to become consistently productive in the majors.
Philadelphia right-hander Roy Halladay, a Cy Young winner, early in his career was sent down to Class A and worked his back up.
Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz was once considered a four-star player — too good for Triple-A but a mediocre hitter in the big leagues. He spent the 2008 season with the RedHawks and worked on weaknesses at the plate. Cruz hit 37 homers that season for Oklahoma City. He is now one of the American League's top mashers.
The same can be said for Brett Wallace and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, both former RedHawks who needed polish but are now back in the majors.
“Up there, you have a lot of pressure,” Martinez said. “The coaches and front office, everyone wants you to do well. If I keep learning and iron some things out I can get to where I want to be.”