Healthy V-Mart grinding to make mark

Healthy V-Mart grinding to make mark

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Now that the news is out, Victor Martinez can discuss the hernia injury he played through last year.

It happened around midseason, he said. And it was rough.

"I was really having a hard time just to get up from bed," he said Sunday. "It was bad. I understand the fans have got all the right to get frustrated, but trust me, there was no one more frustrated than me. I was hitting balls in the gap, to the wall and barely getting to first base. I have never put any excuses in my career, but they didn't know what was going on. This time it wasn't my knee.

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"I've never been a fast guy in my career, but I know I was better than what I showed at the end of the season."

Martinez was slow enough last year that, as ESPN noted last month, his baserunning runs metric -- as calculated by Baseball Prospectus based on extra bases taken per opportunity -- ranked among the worst single-season ratings ever recorded.

Victor Martinez 2016 Highlights

Martinez was willing to live with that -- and so were the Tigers -- as long as the injury didn't hamper his swing.

"I thought about it," Martinez said of a stint on the disabled list, "but it's a process [to recover]. You still have to take six to sevens weeks [after surgery], and once you're in the middle of the season. … It was something where I would still be able to put together good at-bats, swing the bat. Trust me, there was nobody more frustrated than I was. …

"I was able to swing the bat. That wasn't bothering me. The problem was to run the bases."

For the Tigers, Martinez's injury coincided with Nick Castellanos' broken hand, Cameron Maybin's off-and-on injuries, and J.D. Martinez return from his elbow injury. As long as Victor Martinez could swing the bat without impact to his power or contact, he was going to be in the lineup. And if he could bat from both sides of the plate, manager Brad Ausmus' preference has always been to have the switch-hitter batting cleanup after Miguel Cabrera to break up the string of right-handed hitters in the order.

"I checked on him," Ausmus said.

Martinez hit .269 (65-for-242) with eight doubles, 10 home runs and 34 RBIs in the second half of the season. He hit .297 (30-for-101) in August before batting .235 (20-for-85) in September.

Once the season ended, Martinez underwent surgery in Lakeland and rehabbed at home in Florida, having installed a workout room at his cattle ranch in the middle of the state.

"Nothing to do but just work out and work the cows," Martinez said.

He's entering the next-to-last season on the four-year, $68 million contract he signed with the Tigers after his American League MVP Award runner-up season of 2014. He turned 38 in December, but with his hernia fixed and his knees no longer barking, he feels his healthiest since 2014.

"We're definitely not getting any younger," Martinez said. "We're still competing. Nobody said it was going to be easy. It is what it is. We keep fighting, and we keep grinding, that's for sure. Let's see what happens this year."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.