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Victor Martinez dodged a bullet with knee injury, thankful for short recovery time

Victor Martinez's injury could have been a lot worse and he's glad that the recovery time wasn't drastically bleak.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

LAKELAND, Fla. — Victor Martinez wasn't serious when he said it. But after his second offseason knee injury he joked Tuesday that he might be better off sitting on the couch, gaining 20 or 30 pounds until it's time for the next season. That it happened to the same knee and while he was doing something innocuous as playing catch makes it all the more bizarre.

"Believe it or not, I wasn't doing anything," Martinez said. "I was just playing catch with my brother in front of my house. When I plant, (makes pop noise), went straight to the ground. I was really scared, I'm not gonna lie. I feel that pop in my knee. First thing that came to my head was that thing I had two years ago.

"I'm not gonna lie, I had a lot of stuff going on in my head, a lot of thinking. What I went through the first time, it's not really fun. I was just praying it wasn't anything big and thank God, they went in there, they didn't repair anything, just clean it."

With the first injury, Martinez was on crutches for four months. This time around was far less severe as he spent just "3-4 days" in crutches. Martinez has been running on the AlterG treadmill since he arrived at Lakeland on Monday and he took 30 swings yesterday, 15 from either side. The current schedule has Martinez increasing his swings by five on each side every day for at least a week.

The Tigers got lucky in that not only was the injury in the offseason, but they have a very short recovery time period to deal with, one that puts Martinez back in the lineup even before Opening Day. Martinez is three weeks removed from surgery as of today, and after a minimum of a week increasing his swings, he should progress to batting practice, but that's still at least a week away.

"(Martinez will be) hitting on the field (next)," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Right now he's just going to be in the cage, soft tossing, tee work, and the next step will be batting practice in the field."

As Martinez hasn't taken part in any live BP sessions yet, Ausmus said he's not sure whether his knee will feel more pressure from the left or right side of the plate. Because the lineup is so heavily right-handed, however, Ausmus is hoping Martinez will feel the effects batting right-handed to help balance it out more.

"Ideally, the pressure transfers from back to front a little bit so you get a little bit of pressure regardless," Ausmus said. "If I had to choose I'd hope it would affect him more from the right side but I don't know which one, you'd have to ask him that."

When Ausmus initially heard the news, the worst case scenario popped into his mind that Martinez could miss a significant amount of playing time. Thankfully, the news was far from bleak and Ausmus said he even finally has a "legitimate excuse" to shut down Martinez from stealing bases this season.

Martinez poses an obviously significant threat at the plate. Aside from the obvious that he finished second for the 2014 batting title and the American League Most Valuable Player of the Year, Martinez's batting numbers are overwhelmingly strong from either side of the plate.

Without him in the lineup, the Tigers would've had a significant problem on their hands, though Ausmus said eventually you learn to deal with setbacks, even if it's an ugly one.

"It's a significantly weaker lineup (without Martinez)," Ausmus said. "Especially with the fact that he's a switch hitter and largely a left-handed bat in a lineup with a lot of right handed bats."

Even when Martinez comes back into the lineup, Ausmus is concerned about him playing at first base for the first portion of the season. Running provides a measure of caution as well, however, so Ausmus is caught in the middle on which is of greater concern.

Defensively, between Martinez and Cabrera at first base, there will be more hesitation for Cabrera because of the lateral movements with his ankle. But no matter how much concern/caution/hesitation there is for Martinez, he's still having a tough time taking it slow.

"I was supervised by the doc (this morning), the trainer, but if he wasn't there I might probably take 50 and 50 (from each side)," Martinez said. "It's not fun but I'm just glad to start getting some baseball activity and be back with the team."

Right now the Tigers don't have to worry about first base. Between Jordan Lennerton (who is getting his second consecutive start on Tuesday), Alex Avila, and Andrew Romine to fill in all — of whom need time at first base anyway — covering the right side of the infield isn't a concern. Martinez may not be the patient type but even though he has to take it slow, expect him to be ready on April 6, relieved the injury wasn't worse, and in shape.