LOS ANGELES — For 152 games, at least those played under American League rules during the regular season, it really didn’t matter all that much if J.D. Martinez was less than mobile. He’s paid $110 million to hit, something Martinez is very good at, with his legs a secondary concern.
Then came Friday’s Game 3 of the World Series, when Martinez’s right ankle suddenly emerged as a huge topic of conversation — and a considerable worry for the Red Sox. The timing was everything. With the World Series switching from Fenway Park to Dodger Stadium, that meant NL rules, and no more DH, forcing Martinez to try his ankle in leftfield.
Alex Cora did his best to downplay the severity of the injury, other than to say Martinez has been undergoing treatment from the minute he stepped off Thursday’s chartered flight to the West Coast. The Red Sox were fortunate for the off day, and Martinez put the ankle through a rigorous on-field test before Game 3. We got the feeling as long as Martinez wasn’t carted off the grass, he’d be playing.
“He’s OK,” Cora said Friday afternoon. “It’s Oct. 26. He went through the repetitions and he told me he’s ready to play.”
What Cora was trying to say by mentioning the date was that it’s been a long year, and none of his players are feeling 100 percent by now. And from Boston’s standpoint, wherever Martinez currently is at will have to be enough. He did take time off the trainer’s table Friday for a few minutes, however, to accept the Hank Aaron Award as the AL’s top offensive player, the result of hitting 43 homers with 130 RBIs and slash line of .330/.402/.629.
When Martinez was asked if he required anything stronger than tape to get ready for Game 3 -- like painkillers, for instance -- he shrugged.
“I don’t know,” Martinez said. “The trainers definitely put me through a little bit of a workout testing it out. And it’s something that obviously is a little discomforting. But I’m comfortable with playing, and I’m definitely going to go out there and do my best.”
So far, that strategy has worked. Heading into Friday, Martinez was hitting .333 (13-for-39) with two homers, 13 RBIs and a .967 OPS through the first 11 games of the postseason. Martinez injured the ankle in Game 1, when he tried to round second and sprint for third, but his left foot slid off the wet base, causing him to jam his right ankle awkwardly in the dirt.
Martinez stumbled to the ground on the play, and had to be checked out by the trainers before staying in. The next night in Game 2, Martinez delivered the two-run single, an opposite-field liner, that decided the Red Sox’s 4-2 victory. The problem was, he didn’t look great doing so, and that raised everyone’s antennae about the lingering effects of the injury.
But it’s not like Martinez, at age 31, is a stranger to the outfield. He’s logged 769 games there over his eight-year career, including 316 in left, where Martinez started for Game 3. This season, he played 57 games in the outfield, as compared to 93 at DH. To make room for Martinez, Cora chose to sit Andrew Benintendi, and go with his two Gold Glovers, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, in center and right, respectively.
“As far as matchups, for what we have information-wise, there’s no big difference,” Cora said. “Maybe Benny has the edge [vs. Walker Buehler]. But Jackie’s defense with J.D. in leftfield, it makes sense for us. Also we keep Benny on the bench, and I think he’ll show up in the middle of the game. It’s a good matchup for us against a righty or lefty.
“There’s a lot of stuff that went on, but it’s simple: Keep the big boy in leftfield and have Jackie play left-center and centerfield -- help him out.”
If Martinez continues to do what he’s been doing this October, he’ll more than make up for any of those defensive shortcomings at the plate. Just as long as he stays healthy enough to get to the batter’s box on a regular basis.