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Victor Martinez bulked-up, healthy after frustrating year

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez waits for his turn during batting practice on Sunday.

Lakeland, Fla. – Victor Martinez and his family have moved into a sprawling cattle ranch, located between Lakeland and Orlando, upon which he oversees some 600 cattle, including 25 bulls.

It’s a serious operation.

“You’ve got to look for something after baseball, right?” he said after putting in a full day’s work on the back fields at TigerTown Sunday. “Baseball doesn’t last forever.”

Martinez, 38, is doing all he can to make it last at least another two years, or to the end of his contract with the Tigers. And toward that end, he built an impressive weight room at his ranch, which, judging by his bulging biceps and triceps, he’s put to good use.

“Yeah I’ve spent a little time there,” he said. “There’s nothing to do at the ranch but work out and work the cows. I mean, I am trying, man. I’m getting old. I’ve got to do something. These young guys are hungry.”

Martinez hit 27 home runs last season and knocked in 86 runs, numbers that take on greater luster when you consider he played the last two and a half months with a small hernia. He had surgery in October and didn’t begin his offseason program until December.

“For what I am used to, that’s kind of late for me,” he said. “But it is what it is. I had to take care of that.”

Martinez has come to camp with a clean bill of health – no knee pain, no residual effects from the surgery – for the first time in three years and he is on course to be the designated hitter for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic next month.

“Oh sure, 100 percent,” he said. “I’m ready to go. No rehab, no nothing. Just play baseball. It’s been a while.”

Martinez often winced and grabbed at his stomach when he ran last year, and he said there were many days when he struggled to just get out of bed. Yet, he never disclosed his hernia publicly during the season.

“I’ve never made any excuses in my career,” he said. “Never.”

It was tough at times to keep it quiet, though, especially when he heard the negative reaction of the fans when he couldn’t run to first, or when he’d hit a ball off the wall and settle for a single. It was double-agony for him.

“I understand the fans have all the right to get frustrated,” he said. “But trust me, there was no one more frustrated than me. I was hitting the ball to the gap, to the wall, and barely getting to first base.

“I’ve never been a fast guy in my career, but I know I was better than what I showed at the end of the season. But people just didn’t know.”

He stayed in the lineup for two reasons: one, there was minimal risk of doing further damage by playing as long as he could manage the pain; and two, it didn’t impede his ability to swing the bat.

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He did, though, consider going on the disabled list.

“I thought about it, but it’s still a process,” he said. “You have to take six or seven weeks to recover, and we were in the middle of the season. I was still able to put up good at-bats. Again, trust me, there was nobody more frustrated than I was.”

All that is behind him now. He’s not going to be stealing bases or getting many infield hits, but there is a good chance he will be standing on second base when he drives one into the gap. And to further highlight the point, he’s been taking ground balls at first base so he can give Miguel Cabrera a few more days off his feet.

“If I can help the team somehow, I will do it,” he said. “I don’t care. I just want to win.”

Twitter @cmccosky