J.D. Martinez changed his swing and my mind about the designated hitter

J.D. Martinez (Photo: Cody Bashore)

J.D. Martinez and Clayton Kershaw, both in their age-35 seasons, have turned back the clock with impactful offense and pitching for the Dodgers in 2023. With Martinez, the Dodgers embraced the designated hitter role, and he has rewarded them by finding a late-career power stroke that has propelled him to collect 45 extra-base hits for the Dodgers in his first 78 games in Dodger Blue. Martinez has redefined his swing, resulting in more power, and the slugger has also redefined my opinion on the DH in the NL.


On Opening Day 2013 at Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw hit a majestic home run and I was privileged to be in attendance. George Kontos took over for the Giants in the eighth and served it up to Kershaw on a 92-mph fastball. The home run was the first — and will remain the only — of Kershaw’s career.

In 2020, the National League introduced a designated hitter for the first time in its history for health and safety reasons. After a brief return in 2021, with the lockout of players ending before the 2022 season, so did the era of pitchers hitting as the DH was universally implemented. There wouldn’t be another Kershaw home run again, or an almost zero percent chance for another one after the rule change. Since then, the Dodgers haven’t had a player who was considered a true designated hitter, until Martinez.

With the start of their 2023 campaign, the Dodgers have fully embraced this new age of the DH in the NL. While I will miss moments like Kershaw’s homer, J.D.’s work in the first half of 2023 has certainly won me over due to seeing how a true DH can impact a lineup and its offensive production.


In 2022, before the J.D. Martinez era, the Dodgers used Edwin Rios and Jake Lamb in the designated hitter slot. Rios hit .244 with seven home runs in 27 games and 86 at-bats. Jake Lamb was less successful for the Dodgers in the DH slot and hit .239 with two home runs in 25 games and 67 at-bats.

“Just Dingers” Martinez has hit the ball harder than ever with a 92.8-mph average exit velocity, which is hovering around his career high of 93-mph in 2018. His .536 xSLG % is a marked increase over his 2022 season (.471). The thing is, he doesn’t just hit dingers. Martinez has 79 hits including 20 doubles and two triples for the Boys in Blue this season thanks to reuniting with Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, who famously revamped his swing years ago and now works with him on it daily with the Dodgers.

Martinez’s revamped swing has worked with success for the Dodgers, who have relied on Martinez to help mitigate Max Muncy’s struggles at the plate. While Muncy’s power seems to have been zapped of late, Martinez has unleashed extra power this year, good for a career-high .302 ISO in 338 plate appearances. He is striking out at a 30.8% rate, but his .558 SLG%, .863 OPS and 127 wRC+ makes up for the whiffs.

Martinez started the first 23 games of the season at designated hitter, but he missed 15 games due to lower back tightness, which landed him on the injured list at the end of April and early May. After Martinez was activated from the IL, he hit .311/.338/.703 with eight home runs and a 172 wRC+ over the remainder of the month.

The Martinez freight train has chugged and slugged after that as well. The veteran picked up his 300th career home run on June 17.

This month, Martinez was named to his sixth All-Star team, and first in Dodger Blue, representing the NL as the starting designated hitter. Again, Martinez made history as a Dodgers DH and collected two hits for the NL in the All-Star Game win over the AL. Martinez became the first Los Angeles Dodgers player to have two hits in the midsummer classic since Mike Piazza in 1996.

Having pitchers bat was a quirky part of the game I secretly enjoyed. I’ll miss the occasional pitcher home run. Bartolo Colon’s at-bats were always a hoot. There were some pitchers who could actually hit well. Madison Bumgarner hit 19 career home runs and is surely angered by the DH rule that prevented him from reaching 20 homers.

That said, it’s probably for the best that Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers pitching staff can concentrate on their specialized craft of pitching instead of risking injury in the batting cage. Pitchers can now focus on pitching and overall conditioning instead of trying to squeeze in batting practice, and Shohei Ohtani aside, most MLB pitchers have no business in the batter’s box. It took me a while to accept the fate of the DH in the NL, but Martinez’s powerful and professional hitting has converted me to the designated side. The power of dingers.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.