To help plan for life as a DH, J.D. Martinez turns to Big Papi

Will J.D. Martinez settle in as a regular DH in Boston? Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Last year, as Hanley Ramirez prepared for spring training and what would be his first experience as primarily a designated hitter, David Ortiz imparted some friendly advice.

"Do you really want to know what he told me?" Ramirez said, a smile lighting his face. "Honestly, he told me, ‘Some days you're going to get crazy. Because all you can do is hit, and when things aren't going good, what can you do?’ You just go out there and try not to think about it until your next at-bat."

OK, so Ortiz being Ortiz, he probably mixed in a few off-color words just to emphasize his point. But his message to Ramirez couldn't have been clearer: Being a DH is hard. Harder, in fact, than most people think.

And so, the timing of Ortiz's visit to Boston Red Sox camp last week was serendipitous in that it came only a few days after J.D. Martinez arrived, freshly signed $110 million contract filed away, as the team's new middle-of-the-order masher. An outfielder throughout his seven-year career with the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks, Martinez is expected to be mostly a DH with the Red Sox, and he realizes there is bound to be an adjustment.

Martinez, 30, is a .285 career hitter with an .857 OPS and 152 home runs in 2,828 at-bats. In 38 games as a DH -- a small sample, to be sure -- he’s 35-for-140 (.250) with a .756 OPS and six homers.

But if any player can make the transition to an offense-only role, it would seem to be Martinez, who is as meticulous in his preparation as any hitter in the game. He tapes his batting practice each day and sends it to personal hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc to make sure his swing is just right. He even keeps a notebook in the dugout during games and jots observations about the styles and attack plans of various pitchers.

And that's only a slice of Martinez's daily routine.

"He's very diligent on what he does every single day," said Van Scoyoc, who helped Martinez with a career-saving overhaul of his swing after the 2013 season. "There's a constant grinding on all the things that he needs to be doing. I would find it hard to identify another player in baseball that goes through that on a daily basis."

Studious as he is, though, Martinez is about to face his toughest mental challenge. Whereas he used to be able to take his mind off a poor at-bat by grabbing his mitt and jogging to the outfield, he must now develop ways to occupy his time between at-bats, ones that don't involve obsessing over the many insecurities that tend to build up in a sport in which the best of the best still fail roughly 70 percent of the time.

But, hey, at least Martinez will have more time to do what he seems to enjoy most: hone his swing in the batting cage, analyze video of previous at-bats and study pitchers' tendencies.

"I kind of did that when I played right field, too. It never really stopped me," Martinez said at his introductory Red Sox news conference. "I'm always hungry for information and stuff like that. I'd say the challenge of DHing is going to be learning the routine and to stay loose, stay warm, be ready for [the next at-bat]. But it could definitely be a positive thing."

At least Martinez has a few good role models. Two of the best, actually.

For 3½ seasons in Detroit, as he was blossoming into one of the top sluggers in the American League, he got to hit behind Victor Martinez, whose study habits matched J.D.'s. Since 2011, Victor Martinez ranks second among all designated hitters in on-base percentage (.357) and RBIs (486) and third in home runs (106) and slugging percentage (.453).

"He was a pretty good one to watch," J.D. Martinez told reporters last week. "I've had something to model off of. I think it's going to be a little different than Victor just because Victor is a little bit older in a sense and I'm a little bit younger. So, I think I'm going to be a lot more trying to stay loose and do stuff."

Then there's Ortiz, a first baseman early in his career who wound up becoming the dean of DHs during his 14 seasons with the Red Sox. Upon his retirement after the 2016 season, Big Papi held the all-time records for hits (2,191), runs (1,254), homers (485) and RBIs (1,569) by a DH. And now, with Ortiz dropping in on the Red Sox every now and again as a special assistant to the Fenway Sports Group, Martinez will have access to him as a resource.

The first lessons came last Thursday around a batting cage at the Red Sox's spring training complex.

"I was sitting there during BP, the whole BP, and I was like, 'Let me just sit by him and just hear him,'" Martinez said. "Because you never know. You might talk for 40 minutes there, and there might be one thing you always remember. It was cool."

Until now, Martinez has known Ortiz only from playing against him. But they bonded last week over their similar career trajectories. Ortiz didn't develop into a feared slugger until he got released by the Minnesota Twins after the 2002 season. He was 27 years old then, one year older than Martinez was when the Houston Astros released him at the end of spring training in 2014.

"He's a guy, his career has basically been like mine," Ortiz said. "You go from underdog to superstar and you don't forget where you come from, and I believe in those types of players. And I know those players come in and don't take things for granted and give their best, so I like having J.D. here."

The feeling is mutual. Martinez compared Ortiz's presence in camp to playing alongside Tigers star Miguel Cabrera. Martinez describes Cabrera as such a hitting savant that he could blow off batting practice and still get three hits in a game.

"I'm like, 'Miggy, you're not taking BP today?' He's like, 'Nah, nah, bro. I'm just chilling,'" Martinez told reporters. "He's just sitting in his locker room with a bat in his hand and he goes, 'I'm taking BP right now.' Kind of like that mental visualization-type thing. I'll never forget the stuff Miggy used to do.

"Victor wasn't like that. Victor was a little bit more of, he had to hit every day. Victor was very studious. So, you pick up different things. For me, I have to find what is going to work for me [as a DH]. I don't know what it's going to be yet."

Martinez's hitting IQ is high enough, his work habits so diligent, that he's a good bet to figure it out. Just in case, though, Ortiz will be there to remind him that it won't be easy.