Victor Martinez returns healthy but cautious

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

New York — It's easy to say it now, in hindsight. If the Tigers could get a do-over on Victor Martinez, certainly they wouldn't have brought him back as quickly as they did.

"For sure, I wish we would have taken more time," Martinez said. "But it is what it is. It's all over now. We are here. Let's just worry about today and take it game by game."

Martinez returned to the Tigers lineup and was back hitting clean-up for the first time in a month. The surgically repaired left knee, he said, is stronger than it's been since he had the surgery (Feb. 10). He is able to load up on his left leg and drive the ball when he bats left-handed. He is running without a limp.

Still, there is trepidation, both from Martinez and from manager Brad Ausmus.

"I can't really tell you it's completely out of my mind," Martinez said. "It's way better than when I went on the DL. My swing feels pretty normal. Before I couldn't do anything at all (hitting left-handed).

"I want to say I feel like last year, but I don't really know yet. All I can tell you is that it feels better than when I went on the DL."

Ausmus said he, too, was anxious to see how Martinez held up at game speed.

"We have to see how he looks." he said. "The reports were that he was doing better, he swung it well in Toledo and he was swinging it well in BP before the game. But I am going to reserve judgment with the hope that with the time off and the strengthening through the rehab has put him on the right track."

Martinez was asked if he thought it would still take him some time to catch up to game speed.

"Hopefully not," he said. "I'm not coming here hoping that it's going to take me a minute to get back. I'm hoping to come here and do what I am supposed to do."

Scary thought

Martinez was asked if there was a time when he thought the knee pain was going to be constant and something he would have to learn to play with the rest of his career.

"I knew that I wasn't right, but I never thought it was going to stay like that forever," he said. "If it was going to stay like that forever, I would pretty much have to retire.

"You know when something hurts and you know eventually it's going to be good and not stay hurt the rest of your life."

Around the horn

Alex Avila (left knee soreness) caught his first bullpen before the game Friday. He also ran sprints in left field. It was the first time he ran full out. Barring any setback, Avila is on track to begin his rehab assignment after the Tigers get home next week.

…This was the 300th career start for Justin Verlander. He has posted 152 wins and 1,832 strikeouts.

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky