VMart may catch one interleague game at Citi Field this weekend
DETROIT — Victor Martinez’s catching gear still fits.
And he still enjoys wearing it, even if he’s not had chances to dust the protective equipment off in more than two years.
That may change for the veteran, who has started 823 games behind the plate in his career, beginning this weekend.
Martinez was working out before Wednesday’s game in catcher’s gear, and may be used in this weekend’s interleague series with the Mets in that capacity.
“I was contemplating, contemplating only, catching him in a game in New York,” manager Jim Leyland said of the upcoming series, where the Tigers would otherwise lose their No. 5 hitter’s bat, with no designated hitter in use in a National League park.
[UPDATE: Martinez is in the starting lineup at catcher for Friday night's game.]
For Martinez, it’s a willing assignment.
“It’s a position that I came up in the big leagues in. Still enjoy it. Unfortunately, I can’t do it like I used to do it, every day. But it’s always going to be fun,” he said with a smile, admitting he never stored it too far from hand. “No, it was ready. ... It’s always been there.”
Martinez has not caught in a big league game since Aug. 4, 2011, in a game against Texas at Comerica Park. He hurt his knee two days later in Kansas City, and played the rest of that season at DH, before missing all of last season with a separate knee injury. Martinez has started 10 games at first base this season, the only time he’s played in the field in the last two calendar years.
All along, the Tigers have said they probably wouldn’t change course with Martinez, given his age (34) and the wear and tear his knees had taken with nine seasons of catching, even before the recent knee injury issues.
Leyland said the reversal of philosophy has nothing to do with the current injury status of starting catcher Alex Avila (7-day concussion disabled list) and Brayan Pena (toe injury). Pena fouled a ball off his toe in Tuesday’s game, and came out of the game after a ninth-inning single, but said he would be available for Wednesday night’s game in an emergency. Bryan Holaday got the start in his place.
Even though Martinez hasn’t been catching, the skills never left him. And he never left the fraternity of catchers.
“Victor always gives me a lot of advice, he always tell me how much he misses being behind home plate. He’s one of those guys that anyhow you need to put him in the lineup because his bat is so important for us. For him to be available to be in the lineup, it’s going to be a big plus for us. He’s all about winning. It’s all about putting us in a situation where we can go out there and win. If Victor is in the lineup, we do have a big chance always to win,” Pena said.
“He always give me a lot of tips. Ever since spring training, we develop a great relationship. Every time that I got something that I really want to know, I really need to talk, I go to him, I always go to Alex. But if Alex is catching, I talk to him about any situation and he’s always there. He’s been in the big leagues for a long time so he’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about.
Nor did Martinez stop thinking like a catcher.
“I think just to be in charge of everything, that’s the coolest part about that position. ... That helped me a lot as a hitter, just go out there and have the mindset, have an idea of what they’re trying to do to me,” Martinez said. “Like I say, you never rule it out. I’m just happy to be back in the uniform. If they put me out there, I’ll be more than happy to go out there, and try to do my best.”