DETROIT — As Victor Martinez prepares to spend more time at designated hitter, he can look back on advice he once received from former teammate Travis Hafner, who has been among baseball's best at that specialized role.
“He told me that you have to do a lot. Maybe people think that it's easy to be a DH. It's hard,” Martinez said. “You have to keep warm. You've got to go into the weight room and run the bike and do stuff, stretch yourself. You can't just sit there for a half an hour, an hour, until you get at bat again and just go out there and hit. It's not like that.”
With a smile on his face and excitement in his voice, Martinez was at Comerica Park Saturday for TigerFest, Detroit's annual winter fan event. The Tigers signed Martinez this offseason, and they hope the 32-year-old switch-hitter will be part of a powerful middle of the batting order that includes Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez.
Martinez has been a catcher throughout his career, but general manager Dave Dombrowski has said he'll be the team's primary DH. He's still expected to fill in behind the plate at times, but Martinez may need to adjust after starting 106 games at catcher last season with the Boston Red Sox.
“I came here to win,” Martinez said. “If they need me to play DH, I'll be a DH. If they need me behind the plate, I'll be behind the plate.”
Martinez hit .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs in 127 games with Boston last season. If he produces like that again, it will be a nice boost for a Detroit team that is trying to contend for the AL Central title after going 81-81 in 2010.
Martinez is familiar with Detroit after playing for division foe Cleveland from 2002-09. He hit a career-high 25 homers for the Indians in 2007, when they came within one victory of reaching the World Series with him as their catcher and Hafner as the designated hitter.
“I was in this division pretty much my whole career, and I always liked the way the Tigers approached their organization, their team,” Martinez said. “This organization — they just want to get better.”
Alex Avila is expected to be Detroit's No. 1 catcher. He hit just .228 last year, but he'll be eight years younger than Martinez on opening day and should have every opportunity to improve as a hitter.
Avila says he's looking forward to working with Martinez.
“It's going to be a nice marriage between us, as far as the catching and both of us working with the pitching staff, and obviously producing offensively to help the team win,” Avila said. “It should make for a good partnership.”
Martinez, who can also play first base, started more games at catcher last season than he had since 2007, and it didn't appear to hurt his hitting. Still, the Tigers added him for his bat, not his glove, and they probably wouldn't mind reducing his grueling workload behind the plate if it helps him stay healthy and effective offensively.
“It's tough,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “There's an old saying that the first couple at-bats during the course of the game weren't too bad, but for catchers, as the game went on, the third and fourth at-bats, it gets a little tough.”
Perhaps the one concern surrounding Martinez is his career .225 average at Comerica Park. He's hit only four homers there in 169 at-bats.
Martinez is quick to credit Detroit's pitchers for that — and now he won't have to face them anymore. As for the ballpark's effect on his home run total, he'll just try to hit the ball to the gaps and see what happens.
“I say myself, I'm not a home run hitter. I hit my 20, but I'm more a line drive hitter,” Martinez said. “I might hit some triples. Watch
That's quite a statement from Martinez, who has three triples in his entire career, but anything seems possible.
“I'm like a little kid with a new toy,” Martinez said. “I just want to get this thing started. I can't wait. This is going to be a fun ride.”