2/24/2013 7:45 P.M. ET
Fully recovered, Martinez enjoying his return to field
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Victor Martinez has a nine-year-old son who epitomizes the joy of simply being on a Major League ballfield, bounding around the outfield during pregame batting practice to shag fly balls, hanging around the clubhouse while players tease him, even calling manager Jim Leyland, 'Skip.'
Victor Jose Martinez switch hits like his dad, and he's a very good hitter for his age, lacing line drives with the same style. With each day, he looks more and more like his 34-year-old father.
And yet with each game this spring, as the older Victor Martinez begins looking more like himself on the field after a year away from the game, he bears more and more resemblance to his nine-year-old son. As stoic and as classy as he is, he cannot hide the smile he carries.
As he rounded the bases on his home run off Roy Halladay in the second inning Sunday, and saw his teammates stepping out of the dugout to congratulate him, he had that kind of enthusiasm.
"I was just like a kid," Martinez said. "Just to see my teammates over there waiting for me, the rest of the staff, that's one of those things that makes me come here every morning and work my butt off and get ready."
It's about being back on the field in the game he loves, no doubt, even in a Spring Training game. He missed all of those after wrenching his left knee working out last January.
When he stepped onto the field Friday at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex for the Tigers' Spring Training opener, he said he thanked God for giving him the spirit to work through the year to get to that point.
"It was a long, long way, and finally, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel," Martinez said. "When I stepped on that field, it was just a feeling that, I don't know, I can't even explain it. It was something great."
However, it's also about believing he's back to the hitter he was before. As much as he believed he had his health back, his surgically repaired left knee no longer an issue, even he has been surprised that he has gotten his timing back as quickly as this.
He's 3-for-7 three games into Grapefruit League play after Sunday's three-hit effort against the Phillies. His base hit off Brandon Morrow on Saturday and his home run off Halladay Sunday were both firsts for him since the 2011 ALCS against the Rangers.
Yes, it's just three games, and they're the first three games of the spring, when pitchers are making their first appearances and simply trying to get their pitches down in most cases -- even Roy Halladay.
It's also the first time Martinez has seen live pitching in more than a year.
"This is only my third game, but yeah, I've been really surprised," Martinez said. "The hard part is just to get the rhythm, pick up the ball from the pitcher's hand. I've been able to do that the last three days. It's a good sign."
The fact that he did it off Roy Halladay on one swing Sunday is irrelevant, he said. That doesn't mean it wasn't pretty cool.
Halladay worked past Detroit's first four batters with ease Sunday, striking out two of them while using just 14 pitches. He worked out of a 2-0 count with Prince Fielder to send him down swinging at a nasty changeup, and hoped to do the same when he had a 2-1 count to Martinez.
When Halladay left a pitch over the plate, Martinez pounced.
"I knew I hit that ball good," Martinez said. "I crushed that ball. But honestly, I just put my head down and started running. I told myself, 'At least you have to get to second base.'"
He took what the pitcher gave him, just like he did with a nice, easy single through the right side in the fourth inning. He did much the same when he flared a single into short right field leading off the sixth.
It has impressed his teammates, how quickly he has looked comfortable on the field. It has not necessarily surprised them.
"No, because I know how hard he works," Justin Verlander said. "Having all that downtime, I know he worked his butt off."
Yet as strong as Martinez felt in his rehab this winter, he said his swings were more awkward. With so much time rehabbing, he wasn't used to putting his legs into his swing like usual. Not until a few weeks ago did he get that feeling again. It was a gradual process.
"Adding a little more, adding a little more," Martinez said, "to the point that I know for sure if I let it go and just make the swing that I always make, everything's going to be all right."
The process picked up in a hurry. Now that he has it, he doesn't want to let up.
"He's swinging pretty good right now," manager Jim Leyland said.
Martinez will make the trip from his home in Orlando to Clearwater on Monday morning to get another start, this time likely at first base with Prince Fielder off. The way he's going, Leyland is already anticipating the day when he has to tell Martinez to take a day off.
"He's greedy right now," Leyland said. "He just wants to be out there so bad. I'm going to have to watch him a little bit. But he said he doesn't care how far the trips are, he wants to go. He wants two to three at-bats pretty much every day, but I'll give him a blow. I'll use common sense."
Martinez doesn't sound like he's ready for that yet.
"I don't know, I mean, I don't even have that off-day in my head," Martinez said. "I had a lot of off-days."