NEW YORK — Victor Martinez could hardly contain his excitement.
Set to start at catcher tonight for the first time in two years, he joked with Detroit Tigers teammate Torii Hunter about a potential play at the plate.
“I’ll be waiting for that throw from right field. Oh, baby! They’ll have to run over me,” Martinez said.
The switch-hitting slugger was behind the dish for the opener of Detroit’s interleague series against the New York Mets at Citi Field. With no designated hitter allowed in the National League ballpark, Tigers manager Jim Leyland put Martinez at his old position to keep his dangerous bat in the lineup.
The two discussed the plan about a week ago, and Martinez prepared by catching bullpen sessions, and throwing to bases in practice.
“I don’t know the best way to explain it, but I’m definitely excited. It’s been a while and I really want to give it another try after surgery,” he said. “Before surgery I wasn’t able to squat a whole lot, and now I’ve been able to do all that stuff that I used to do before. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
The 34-year-old Martinez came up as a catcher with Cleveland in 2002 and had caught 853 games in the majors — none since Aug. 4, 2011, according to STATS. He had left knee surgery in January 2012 that sidelined him for all of last season.
“Just call the game, catch the ball and I think he’ll do fine,” Leyland said.
Mets manager Terry Collins said his team planned to test Martinez whenever a good opportunity arose.
Martinez was no defensive standout even when he was younger, throwing out only 20 percent of attempted base stealers throughout his career.
“I’m expecting they’re going to be running. Why not?” Martinez said. “They want to win a ballgame. We want to win a ballgame.”
Of course, he was thrust into action right off the bat.
New York’s speedy leadoff man, Eric Young Jr., singled in the first inning and immediately stole second on Doug Fister’s next delivery. Martinez had a good pitch to handle, but his throw was low and wide as Young easily beat the play.
One out later, Martinez tried to block the plate when Daniel Murphy scored on Marlon Byrd’s single.
Murphy slid home and got a foot between Martinez’s legs as the catcher took the throw from left fielder Don Kelly. Martinez applied the tag an instant too late, and Murphy was called safe.
Martinez got spun around a bit on the play and ended up on the seat of his pants, but appeared fine afterward.
A four-time All-Star, Martinez caught 26 games for Detroit in 2011 but hasn’t been behind the plate regularly since 2010 with Boston. He has started 10 games at first base this season and 112 at DH.
For now, he said, this is a one-game experiment.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Martinez said. “Man, you’ve got to change big-time. I’ve got to be ready earlier than I’m used to. But at least I know what time to get ready.”
Martinez began the night batting .285 with 10 homers and 68 RBIs.
Detroit’s top catcher, Alex Avila, is on the disabled list with concussion symptoms. He is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo.