DETROIT -- While Brad Penny won a World Series with Miguel Cabrera in Florida in 2003, he didn't win anything with Victor Martinez in Boston in 2009. All he got from Beantown was his release and a fresh start in San Francisco, where he regained his strong form.
But as he talked about looking forward to joining the Tigers in a couple weeks, he had some of his highest praise for Martinez.
"Victor, I played for him in Boston," Penny mentioned on his conference call with reporters last Thursday, "and you're not going to meet a better guy. He's incredible in the clubhouse, and he's a competitor, and the guy can hit. I'm really looking forward to it."
That impression was an immediate one. The Red Sox acquired Martinez in 2009 at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, four weeks before Penny was granted his release. Martinez caught two of Penny's four August starts, including his outing against the Tigers at Fenway Park and his ill-fated Boston finale against the Yankees.
But Penny's impression with Martinez wasn't just about how he behaved with things going right. It was the attitude he brought to players when things were going wrong.
"What I liked about Victor is he was never negative in any way," Penny said. "If you're struggling and he comes out to the mound and talks to you, it's all positive. I mean, you can see he just knows you're going to get out of it and do good. You can see it in his eyes.
"I mean, like I said before, what a great teammate. You guys are going to be really impressed with him as a person, not only as a player."
Martinez won't be a daily presence behind the plate for the Tigers, of course. Most of that workload is slated to fall on strong-armed youngster Alex Avila, with Martinez getting maybe a couple starts a week behind the plate. One would expect Martinez to get at least a good share of his starts at catcher when they're facing a left-handed starting pitcher, giving the left-handed-hitting Avila a break.
That still puts a burden of responsibility on Martinez to learn the entire pitching staff this spring. A positive attitude would go a long way.
Given some of Penny's other remarks on the conference call, he gives a lot of credit to catchers and how they work with him. When asked about what went right early last season in St. Louis, where he opened the season with seven straight quality starts and posted a 3.23 ERA in nine outings before a season-ending oblique injury, Penny partly cited Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. His defense, Penny explained, allowed him to focus on his pitching rather than baserunners.
That should bode well for Avila, who threw out nearly a third of would-be basestealers (20-for-63) last season.
Penny is familiar with the name Avila, too, but it's more about the elder. Al Avila, Alex's father and a Tigers vice president, was part of the Marlins' front office under Dave Dombrowski when Florida acquired him from Arizona in 1999 and then put him into the Marlins' rotation a year later.