J.D. Martinez itching to get back to Tigers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
J.D. Martinez had an intense warm-up session Friday afternoon, throwing about 30 balls from between 200 and 210 feet in the outfield. He said he “cranked it up pretty good.”

Toledo — They’re getting closer, health-wise and distance-wise.

J.D. Martinez and Jordan Zimmermann both arrived in Toledo for Friday night’s game, eager to join a surging Tigers team for the pennant race.

Zimmermann (neck) was set to make his second rehab start, while Martinez (fractured right elbow) was to play designated hitter for a third straight game, still working his arm up for right field.

Zimmermann has been out since late June, Martinez since mid-June, huge blows for a Detroit team that could’ve faded from view without two of its marquee performers.

But the Tigers just swept the Red Sox in Boston to pull within 4 1/2 games of the AL Central lead, and within two games of the second wild card.

“It’s exciting, just to know we’re still in the race, having to deal with the injuries we’ve had to deal with,” Martinez said Friday afternoon in the Fifth Third Field home dugout, looking out toward gloomy skies over Toledo.

“Me and Zimm are both itching to get back, just excited to get back out there and be able to help the team. The guys on the team have been doing a great job of carrying it while our team hasn’t been totally at full strength.

“That just shows you the type of team we have.”

Martinez had an intense warm-up session Friday afternoon, throwing about 30 balls from between 200 and 210 feet in the outfield. He said he “cranked it up pretty good.”

Still, he was to be the designated hitter for the third consecutive game.

“Right now, it’s already sore, I can tell,” Martinez said.

“I’ve been throwing every day, for the most part. Definitely, every day’s gotten better. I don’t feel like we’ve taken it — knock on wood — where we’ve said, ‘We’re not there yet, we need to bring it in a little bit.’

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters before Friday’s series opener against the Houston Astros that Martinez is considered “day-to-day” and the hope is he’ll be back by the end of a nine-game home stand that is just getting under way.

Martinez hopes the sooner the better, too, but he’s got no specific time line.

“Talk to him,” Martinez said, pointing at his right bicep, which had no comment.

Martinez, a 28-year-old All-Star who’s in the prime of his career, was rolling before he crashed into a wall June 16, fracturing the elbow. In his last 14 games in Detroit, he batted .442/.500/.673 with a home run and 10 RBIs.

On Friday, he was 1-for-3 with a hard single and a strikeout before the game was delayed by rain in the top of the sixth inning. In his two games for Toledo before Friday night, he was 4-for-10 with two RBIs and a strikeout.

The time off has been seriously frustrating.

“Very,” said Martinez, whose beard game is strong these days. “Very.

“You’re dying to get back and you work so hard in the offseason and you sacrifice so much time, so much effort and energy, just getting ready for the season, then all of a sudden you can’t. You’re like, ‘Dude, why did I work so hard?’ ”

Martinez caught a lot of the Tigers sweep of the Red Sox, and was excited.

He called this weekend’s series against his old team, the Houston Astros, a really big one. The Astros are right ahead of the Tigers in the wild-card race.

“If we can go there and win that series, all of a sudden, we’re in the wild-card position,” he said. “I don’t care how you get in, as long as you can get in.”

Even with the new stress of the one-game wild-card playoff?

“Hey, that’s what you play for,” Martinez said. “You know that.”

Fair enough.

Here’s something we didn’t know, though.

It’s customary for major-leaguers on rehab assignment to purchase a yummy postgame spread for their minor-league teammates, but when two major-leaguers are there — as is the case with Zimmermann and Martinez on Friday — then who pays?

“I told Zimm he better be buying!” said Martinez, doing little to dispel last year’s accusation by Nick Castellanos that Martinez would be the Tigers teammate most likely to slip into the bathroom when the restaurant bill arrives. “He signed the $110-million contract. He can pay for it!”

Toledo on Friday also welcomed relief prospect Joe Jimenez, the right-hander who began the season at Single-A Lakeland and dominated, before moving to Double-A Erie and dominating again. He was promoted to Toledo ahead of Friday’s game, with lefty Joe Mantiply demoted to Erie.

Jimenez, like Zimmermann, Martinez and Daniel Norris (Double-A rehab start Thursday), could prove to be an X-factor in the Tigers’ push for a fifth postseason appearance in the last six seasons.