Tigers' Martinez feels 'pretty good' about debut

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Victor Martinez

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Not since last October had that guy with the crouched stance stepped into a batter's box in a big-league game.

Little had changed, at least cosmetically, as Victor Martinez arrived in the first inning of Sunday's game at Wide World of Sports Stadium.

He took his faux left-handed swings against Braves starter Shelby Miller. He locked in on Miller like a lion eyeing a gazelle. He swung.

And he missed.

That part was different – the strikeout from one of baseball's best hitters. But it was all so relative.

Martinez, who had knee surgery last month, also grounded out twice to the first baseman in three at-bats during the Braves' 5-3 victory over the Tigers.

"Felt great to get the first one out of the way," Martinez said as he cooled in the Tigers' clubhouse. "Everything felt pretty good. Coming out of the box, the way I was swinging – I'm happy with how the day went."

In his first at-bat Martinez got beat by a 95-mph fastball from Miller. Timing remained balky in his final two at-bats when he rolled grounders to first base.

That was it. Three at-bats. The Tigers are being gentle with a 36-year-old artist who last season batted .335, with a big league-best OPS of .974, which is how he won a Silver Slugger Award (best hitter at his position).

"He's not the Victor we're used to seeing, but it was just good to see him out there," said Gene Lamont, the Tigers bench coach who Sunday managed the split-squad team Detroit sent to Disney World.

"He looked like he ran OK. It was just good to see No. 41 getting some at-bats."

Amen, said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager who was among the gratified Sunday.

"He just needs to get at-bats these next two weeks," said Dombrowski, who believes Martinez has time to find his old groove ahead of Opening Day, April 6.

"I've had hitters get ready in two weeks," he said, recalling 1981, when a 50-day, mid-season strike forced players to quickly re-tune their swings.

Dombrowski was celebrating a double reunion Sunday. In the split-squad game at Lakeland, Miguel Cabrera was also getting his first at-bats of 2015 after offseason ankle surgery.

The Tigers are off Monday, which will give Martinez – and Cabrera – a day to further convalesce. Minus setbacks, each is expected to play regularly as the Grapefruit League season heads into its final 12 days.

Light artillery

The Braves scored twice in the eighth against Josh Zeid to put away Sunday's game after the Tigers had tied it, 3-3, on a two-run homer from Jefry Marte, a third baseman and minor-league free agent signed during the offseason.

Ian Kinsler had a double and RBI for the Tigers as his sizzling spring (.393) continues. Anthony Gose (.341) had a double, as did Austin Romine, on a day when the Tigers had five hits.

Lobstein solid

Kyle Lobstein, who figures to get a quick call if and when the Tigers need another starter in 2015, opened Sunday for the Tigers and was fine in his four-inning stint: two runs on four hits, and half the hits were marginal.

A fly ball to left that Tyler Collins couldn't find in the bright sky fell for a double and led to Atlanta's first run. A bunt single also went against Lobstein on a day when he struck out two and walked two.

A left-hander, Lobstein was a spot-starter for the Tigers in 2014 and could end up as a fill-in, at least, this season. He had been hurt this spring by an early bout with shoulder tendinitis.

"Today, I felt like I had some extra life, especially on my two-seamer," said Lobstein, 25, whom the Tigers snagged from the Rays in a 2013 trade.

Although not a fireballer, Lobstein has an edge, Lamont said after Sunday's game: "They don't center him (Lobstein's pitches) very well. He knows what he's doing. He makes pitches."

Lobstein was followed Sunday by Buck Farmer (scoreless inning), Al Alburquerque (one run), Bruce Rondon (scoreless inning) and Zeid.

Lamont was particularly pleased with Farmer, the rookie right-hander, who allowed a couple of quick singles but then shut down the Braves.

"He's got outstanding stuff," Lamont said. "He's really a good prospect."