Healthy Martinez eyes first trip to World Series
Frustration of last year's rehab replaced by return visit to postseason
BOSTON -- When the Tigers matched up against the Yankees during last year's American League Championship Series, Victor Martinez couldn't even force himself to watch any of the games.
The veteran designated hitter was still too distraught after undergoing microfracture surgery earlier in the year to repair the medial and lateral meniscus in his left knee. The injury cost him the entire 2012 campaign and even though he was obviously rooting from afar, the actual visual of his team on the field was too much to take.
Martinez turned down an offer from the club to join his teammates in the dugout and often had to find ways to keep himself busy when the games were on TV. He wanted to watch, but the entire process was simply too painful.
"It was extremely tough to the point where I didn't watch at all," Martinez said. "I might have watched an inning here or there, but I wasn't able to sit in front of the TV and watch.
"They wanted me to go last year for some of the playoff games, World Series. But you know what, the front office understood, my teammates understood, that it doesn't do me any good being there and not being able to play. Last year by this time, I was just rehabbing and rehabbing my knee."
Thankfully for Martinez and the rest of his teammates, that left knee injury is now ancient history. He struggled at times during the first half of the season but went on to post an impressive .361 average and .913 OPS after the All-Star break. The native of Venezuela finished with a final average above .300 for the fifth consecutive season and provided some much-needed protection for first baseman Prince Fielder in the batting order.
The overall numbers mask what was otherwise an uphill battle in his return to full strength. There were times during Spring Training that he wasn't sure if he would ever really make it back. The early days of spring saw fastballs coming to the plate at just 86-87 mph but, to Martinez, they seemed to coming in at 100.
Even though the season was still more than a month away and there was plenty of time to prepare, Martinez was concerned. In fact, he started to worry before he even got to see an opposing pitcher on the mound.
"I got really frustrated on one day facing our own pitchers in live BP," Martinez recalled. "Spring Training games hadn't even started, the pitchers were throwing live BP and I didn't know when to start.
"I got so frustrated and [hitting coach] Lloyd McClendon came and talked to me and said, 'Vic, listen, go out there and watch pitches and get your rhythm and get your timing down. You're coming from a year off.' That's how frustrated I was in the first three days in Spring Training. It was a long road."
Martinez and offseason acquisition Torii Hunter were two of the primary reasons the Tigers went from being ranked 11th last year in runs scored to second overall in 2013. Both players were significant upgrades during the regular season but when it comes to the playoffs, Martinez still has some work to do.
Delmon Young was one of the biggest storylines during the Tigers' run to the World Series in 2012. The club's former designated hitter recorded a .313 average (15-for-48) with three homers, nine RBIs and a .907 OPS in three rounds of the postseason.
Those are hard numbers to replicate, but so far Martinez is doing his fair share. Martinez has nine hits in 20 at-bats in the postseason and appears to have picked up right where he left off at the end of the year.
"Obviously we missed him a lot [last] season, there's no question about that," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's back in sync, swinging the bat really well.
"I don't know how much better you can expect somebody to do than what Delmon Young did for us last year in the postseason. But it's just nice to have him back, solidified in our DH spot. We know that's our spot. We know he's going to be there and he's an excellent hitter, he can get a hit off a good pitcher with two strikes in a big situation. Really thrilled to have him back."
The self doubts have long since been erased and Martinez is back to where he was earlier in his career. Now the goal is to get to the World Series, which is something Martinez has never been able to accomplish during his 11 healthy seasons in the big leagues.
There have been previous trips to the postseason with Cleveland, Boston and Detroit, but Martinez is still searching for that elusive ring. If he keeps hitting the way he has been lately behind Miguel Cabrera and Fielder, then Martinez will certainly give his team a good chance of achieving that lofty goal.
"I always say, if I'm healthy I'm always expecting big things out of myself," Martinez said. "It has been a fun year, I can tell you that, we have a great group of guys in this room and we're really looking forward to having a pretty good series against the Red Sox."