The Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter has stepped up the running portion of his rehabilitation after missing last season because of an injury to his left knee. He had microfracture surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered on Jan. 17, 2012.
Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand on Friday supervised Martinez’s first running drills, which took place at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. Rand said Martinez’s full recovery by Saturday allows the potent switch-hitter to stay on a schedule of three weekly baseball-running sessions.
“Victor is not running at full speed, but he is running very well,” Rand said Monday. “We are doing low-volume (work) right now with a warm-up, turns at the bases, simulated running out of the batter’s box and going from first to third.
“We will progress to medium-volume and high-volume workouts by going at higher speeds and giving him more reps.”
Rand said Martinez won’t be pushed in the Tigers’ Grapefruit League games, which begin Feb. 22, but will be ready to serve as the full-time DH by the April 1 opener at Minnesota.
“Victor is in great spirits,” Rand said. “He’s excited. He looks and feels great, and can’t wait for spring training.”
Martinez, 34, began hitting with soft-toss drills in early December and is now hitting live pitching. He loads his swing on his left leg when hitting left-handed, so Rand was asked if it’s easier for him to hit right-handed at this point.
“Victor told me that he has not had any issues hitting,” Rand said. “He’s now being pitched to and will come here at the beginning of February to begin hitting daily with (hitting coach) Lloyd (McClendon).
“Victor is progressing very, very well.”
That’s good news for cleanup hitter Prince Fielder, who can expect to see a few more fastballs to hit with V-Mart dropping into the No. 5 spot. Fielder was sixth in the American League last year with 85 walks, largely because Delmon Young was not formidable enough to protect him until getting hot down the stretch.
In 2011, his first season with Detroit, Martinez batted .330 with 40 doubles, 12 home runs and 103 RBI.
The Tigers used him as the starting catcher 26 times two years ago, but he will be nothing more than an emergency third catcher this season. The Tigers signed free-agent catcher Brayan Pena to back up Alex Avila. Pena, according to Rand, already has arrived to work out in Lakeland.
Martinez is splitting time between physical-therapy work near his Orlando home and the workouts in Lakeland. The baseball-running drills are the last step in the rehab process for lower-body injuries.
Martinez injured his knee last year while doing a sidewise running drill in Orlando.
“We’ll get him up to high-volume (work) in the weeks ahead,” Rand said. “That will mean going four to six times to first base at full speed; going from first base to third two or three times; and tagging to score. That’s when Victor will be ready for everything.”
Martinez had hoped to return by the end of last season. But when that possibility was abandoned in late August, it allowed him to stretch out the rehabilitation process.
Martinez, entering the third year of a four-year contract worth $50 million, was too valuable to push for short-term returns.
“It was a good goal to work toward the end of 2012,” Rand said. “But Victor was better off slowing down the process. He was able to give it more time. Time helps and time heals.”
INFANTE’s HAND HEALED
Rand said Tigers second baseman Omar Infante is completely recovered from the nondisplaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal in his left hand. He suffered the injury in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on a pitch from Giants reliever Santiago Casilla.
“Everything’s great, and Omar is full go,” Rand said. “He saw a hand specialist the day after the series, did not require surgery and was in a splint for six weeks. He was re-X-rayed in Lakeland in early December to be sure.”
Infante — reacquired by the Tigers from the Marlins in a July trade that also brought starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez — hit .257 for Detroit with seven doubles, five triples, four homers and 20 RBI in 64 games. Infante was one of the few constants in the series sweep defeat, batting .333. Infante hit .300 in 50 postseason at-bats.
THAMES RETIRES TO BECOME COACH
Ex-Tigers player Marcus Thames announced his retirement last week to become hitting coach of the Tampa Yankees, a Single-A Florida State League team. Thames, 35, hit .246 with 115 homers and 301 RBI in his 10-year career that ended in 2011 with the Dodgers.
Thames, who spent six seasons with the Tigers, had career-highs of 26 homers and 60 RBI in 2006 for Detroit’s AL champions.