Tigers have no plans to place Victor Martinez on DL

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Victor Martinez

St. Louis – The Tigers have considered putting Victor Martinez on the disabled list. They considered it earlier in the season, after he tweaked his surgically-repaired left knee in Pittsburgh. They considered it again a few weeks later when he was having uncomfortable-looking swings from the left side of the plate.

And, they have been considering it this weekend after shutting him down for three and possibly four games.

But after pinch-hitting — and popping out — in the seventh inning Sunday when the Tigers trailed 2-1, and barring some unforeseen setback, it's not going to happen.

"We've talked about it but we've never got to it," manager Brad Ausmus said before the game Sunday. "Just when we think he needs to go on the DL, he goes out and gets a couple of hits."

This would seem to be the right time put him on the DL, at least from a scheduling standpoint. If he doesn't play Sunday, he would have sat for four games — cutting the time on the disabled list from 15 days to 11.

That would make him eligible to return on May 28. He would miss series against the Brewers, Astros, A's and one game of the series against the Angels. The Tigers, if rotations stay as they've been, would be facing nine straight right-handed pitchers beginning Monday.

So if there was ever a good time to sit a switch-hitting designated hitter who has struggled from the left side, this would be it. But that's not the direction this is heading. Martinez, for the first time since Wednesday, took batting practice Sunday.

"He is actually available to pinch hit today," Ausmus said. "But I would try to avoid it and give him another day (of rest). We believe these four days are going to help. Starting tomorrow, our plan is to have him back in the starting lineup assuming he feels fine."

Ausmus said Martinez wasn't being evaluated by the medical staff during batting practice. It wasn't a test. It was just regular BP.

"He will be fine in BP, he's never had a problem in BP even when we'd occasionally see (problems) in the game," Ausmus said. "He will hit today and be available to me today. But again, it would have to be the exact right situation for me to use him."

Asked if Martinez had suffered any kind of setback, Ausmus said, "You can say that if you want to sensationalize it and inflame things, but it's not the case."

Martinez seemed to indicate that he expected to be back in the lineup Monday against the Brewers, though they will be throwing right-handed starter Mike Fiers.

"It is what it is," Martinez said after the game Saturday. "There is not much I can do now. But, one more day."

One more day meaning, the Tigers will be home Monday, playing by American League rules where he can be back in his customary spot at the designated hitter.

"I feel like the rest has helped," he said. "I am still doing my exercises, still trying to make it strong."

Hitting left-handed has been the problem for Martinez. The surgery was on the left knee, which is his back leg, the load leg, when he hits left-handed. The numbers show the difficulty he's had from that side of the plate, entering Sunday night:

• Batting right-handed against left-handed pitching: .462 batting average, .654 slugging percentage, 1.170 OPS.

• Batting left-handed against right-handed pitching: .150 batting average, .163 slugging percentage, .418 OPS.

In the month of May, before he was shut down, he had six hits in 36 at-bats from the left side. A lot of those swings looked uncomfortable. On some he even winced and limped around the plate.

Martinez is one of the best switch-hitters to ever play the game, so the idea of him hitting right-handed against right-handed pitching is repugnant to him. Over his career he has hit .304 left-handed and .307 right-handed. His OPS is .831 left-handed and .867 right-handed.

He's built his career on that skill, the ability to hit and hit with power from both sides of the plate. He only has 23 plate appearances where he's looked at a pitch from a right-handed pitcher from the right side of the plate, his last coming in 2011.

To ask him to start doing it more now — well, as Ausmus said — it's not going to happen.

"We talked about it (hitting right-handed against right-handers) a while ago," Ausmus said. "It's a non-starter."

The Tigers have tried to allow Martinez to heal without missing a large chunk of time. It's a process he went through in 2013 when he was coming off micro-fracture surgery on the left knee. It was determined, then and now, that he isn't going to do any more damage by continuing to play.

But for every two steps he's taken forward, he's taken two or three back.

"Every time we've talked about putting him on the DL he's done something or something happens to change our mind," Ausmus said. "Really, I thought he turned the corner during that last road trip. And he was good against Kansas City.

"But in Minnesota, he didn't look the same."

Martinez is confident he can play his way through it.

"The good thing about it, I have been through this before," he said.