Martinez, Cabrera get more comfortable in win over Marlins

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Victor Martinez bats during the second inning Wednesday against the Marlins.

Lakeland, Fla. – This is how a professional hitter thinks.

Victor Martinez, playing in his second game of the spring coming off knee surgery, singled sharply to right field, part of a six-run, sixth inning uprising in the Tigers 8-4 win against the Marlins Wednesday.

That was not his favorite at-bat of the day.

"If you ask me, believe it or not, the at-bat I most liked today was the one where I struck out," he said.

Marlins starter David Phelps froze Martinez with a nasty 2-2 breaking ball in the fourth. But it was a battle. Martinez fell behind 1-2 and fouled out several tough pitches before he looked at that breaking ball.

"I felt like I was on every pitch," Martinez said. "He made a good pitch, but I was really happy with that at-bat. I was able to recognize the curve ball, his change-up, his cutter. I was reacting good; his fastball inside, I saw that.

"I really liked that at-bat."

This is how a professional manager thinks.

Miguel Cabrera played first base Wednesday for the first time since he had his ankle and foot surgery last October. The Marlins had a runner at third with two outs when former Tiger Don Kelly sent a hard ground ball to Cabrera's right.

Cabrera, who just 10 days ago was only fielding ground balls hit directly at him, dived into the hole, caught the ball and threw Kelly out from his backside.

"I liked it when he got up with a smile," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I was a little concerned when he went down; I really was. He is a very important part of this team and I don't want to lose him coming off major surgery.

"So, yeah, I was concerned when he left his feet and I was relieved when he got up smiling."

Barring any undue soreness overnight, Cabrera and Martinez will be back in their usual No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the batting order Thursday, and they are progressing toward being ready for Opening Day.

Former Tiger Don Kelly of the Marlins is greeted by Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline before Wednesday's game in Lakeland.

This is how Miguel Cabrera thinks.

"I feel very good," he said after going 0-for-2. "I'm glad to be back at first and try to get in the rhythm, try to get in baseball shape. I was so happy to be out there at first base and try to play defense."

So happy, in fact, he didn't think twice about the ankle and foot – not when he made a dive Wednesday, not when he slid into second Tuesday.

"I try to make plays and to make that play in that situation, I don't think about my ankle or my feet," he said. "Right now I'm focused on going out there and playing. I think that's a good sign. I came today and see what happens, see if I'm going to be ready."

Both Martinez and Cabrera talked about needing more swings, more repetitions at the plate.

"I don't know about timing," Cabrera said. "I don't believe timing because when you're out there, your swing's sometimes good, sometimes not good. I see the ball good. My timing was there but with no results.

"Just keep going out there, keep swinging and make something happen."

The biggest hurdle left for Martinez, at least as he sees it, is the running. He flew out, struck out and singled, and was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner -- not much running required. Before the game he did sliding drills but thus far, he has not yet had to run at full speed.

"That's the one thing I am going to have to battle," Martinez said. "We'll see. I am still working. I am still doing my rehab stuff. It's a slow process."

There are 10 spring games left. Even though they won't both play in all 10, there is a good chance they could get 24, possibly more, at-bats before April 6.

"I don't know if it's the best-case (scenario) but it's not a bad-case," Ausmus said.

Twitter@cmccosky