Friday, August 29, 2008

Victor Martinez Questionable on Return to Indians

As anticipated, injured Indians catcher Victor Martinez returned to Cleveland from Buffalo in time for the weekend series with the Mariners, having gone 6-20 for a batting average of .300 during his brief minor league rehabilitation. But his durability remains a question.

The 30-year-old cleanup hitter must be considered less than whole if for no other reason than his rustiness following a near two-month layoff for elbow surgery. He also will need an unspecified amount of rest, depending on how he feels.

Martinez now has been slated to share at-bats with backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, as Shoppach's play offensively and defensively has earned him a significant if not a majority of playing time behind the plate. Shoppach largely has been hitting between .260 and .270 with 17 homers.

Martinez -- who played first base and singled and walked before being lifted for a pinch runner in his first game back -- will see time as designated hitter, catcher and first baseman.

Martinez went down on June 11, undergoing surgery two days later to remove bone chips from his right elbow. It later developed that Martinez had been fighting mounting soreness in the elbow for some two years until it became unbearable.

With Martinez displaying little or no power when the season opened, the Indians blamed his struggles on a pulled hamstring. While possibly true, the claim certainly was an effective and convenient cover for the fact that Martinez was having trouble not only at the plate but with his throwing arm, a disclosure that would have led to an open season on stealing.

The hamstring story was suspicious because catchers' hamstrings are stretched more than any other professional athlete and rarely rupture or fray.

Though Martinez hit .300 with 25 homers in 2007, he had been a shadow of his former self as he struggled with elbow pain, having failed to hit a single homer in nearly 100 at-bats before going on the disabled list.