DETROIT -- Victor Martinez is not himself. Understandably so, the designated hitter is still recovering from medial meniscectomy surgery to his left knee on February 10. Martinez's recovery remained on track throughout spring training but the Detroit Tigers were careful not to rush him at any point. Martinez was on the Opening Day roster, but nearly three weeks later his bat is still catching up and on several occasions Martinez has shown obvious signs that his knee is still not at full strength.
"Yeah, he's certainly not 100 percent," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of Martinez's health. "So, I think from that sense, he's somewhat recovering. Although, what's bothering him right now is not in the area where the surgery was, it's the area in the top of the knee, which may or may not have been caused by the weakening of the knee. But it's not actually the surgical area that is the issue."
Ausmus will not be holding Martinez out of the lineup against right-handed pitchers during the upcoming series against the New York Yankees. At least, not at this point. Martinez -- whose catching and first baseman days are now a thing of the past as a result of the surgery, according to Ausmus -- was pulled from Saturday's blowout game in the eighth inning for pinch hitter Nick Castellanos, but the only reason for replacing Martinez was the score. Had the game been a closer situation, Ausmus said he would have kept Martinez in the lineup.
This is the first time this season that Ausmus has acknowledged that Martinez is not at full strength. The Tigers aren't concerned about Martinez being capable of playing, and Martinez wearing a Bauerfeind knee brace for support is normal -- if anything it's a good thing. Martinez will also likely continue to be more affected against right-handed pitchers as his knee continues to recover. The disabled list is not something Martinez or the Tigers are considering, though.
"It's uncomfortable. I don't think I am doing any more damage," Martinez said. "If it continues to get worse I will say something. It's something I have to play through for a little bit. Hopefully it goes away sooner than later. It feels sometimes similar (to the original injury), like it was in my knee cap. But I don't think it was like it is now."
During the three-game series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and then the first home game of a 10-game home stand, Martinez sat out of the lineup. While he pinch hit on two occasions against the Pirates, he struck out on both occasions and Ausmus said that's when Martinez tweaked his knee. The weakening of the knee, however, likely goes back to the Cleveland series against the Indians, when he aggravated his knee on April 11 in the top of the seventh inning.
Before hitting a two-on, two-out RBI single with a 4-3 lead, Martinez awkwardly swung through a 92 mph cutter thrown by Bryan Shaw on a 3-1 count. Batting from the left side, Martinez's left knee noticeably buckled and he limped out of the box to collect himself. The next swing resulted in the RBI, but the Tigers removed him from the game immediately after he reached first base, if for nothing more than precautionary reasons.
"We think in Pittsburgh when he took that swing he just tweaked that area, in the top of the knee, possibly because the other area isn't at full strength yet," Ausmus said. "The positive is, it's not the surgically repaired area of the knee, it's just another area on the knee that's been aggravated."
Martinez has gotten off to a slow start, his numbers a far cry from the Silver Slugging, all-star numbers he put up last season. Currently, Martinez is batting .231/.375/.231 with no extra-base hits or home runs, and he has just six hits. Also unlike his 2014 numbers is that Martinez has already struck out five times, a number he hadn't reached until May 6 last season.
Currently, there is no timetable for when Martinez's knee will be back at full strength, and it's hard to put an exact date on something like this. Martinez may have tweaked the top of the knee, but the surgically-repaired portion hasn't recovered and that affects the strength of the rest of the knee, which can lead to susceptibility for overall weakness and aggravation.
The Tigers' offense has slowed down in the last few games, but they've also faced some of the top pitchers in the league to start the season. Even then, they've come away with only two losses in 11 games, largely because of stellar pitching by the Tigers' rotation.
Martinez hasn't been a significant factor in why the offense had been recording key hits but sooner or later they are going to need his 2014 bat to come back. Until he's 100 percent, however, fans should expect his struggles at the plate to continue.