LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Tigers brought a slew of young players to face the Braves, keeping many of their regulars back in Lakeland in anticipation of Saturday's Grapefruit League home opener. Victor Martinez rivaled all of them in enthusiasm.
He was already yelling encouragement when the Tigers were taking batting practice on the field at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex Friday morning.
"Victor's the most keyed-up guy on the whole team right now," manager Jim Leyland remarked.
That excitement didn't dampen for the game. After missing all of last season, from Spring Training to the World Series, Martinez wasn't going to take his return for granted.
"There were a lot of things involved to get to this point," Martinez said, "I never was so excited, so happy for a Spring Training game. This was like just being called up to the big leagues."
There was the reconstructive knee surgery last winter, then the rehab work to avoid another surgery during the spring. There was the rehab to try to come back last fall, then the offseason slowdown to focus on getting him fully healthy for this spring.
When he stepped to the plate as the designated hitter against Tim Hudson in the second inning, he felt like a player again.
"Honestly, I'm not really thinking about the knee anymore," Martinez said.
The Tigers usually draw a good share of fans to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex when they visit the Braves in Spring Training, so an applause for a visiting player isn't rare. But when Martinez stepped to the plate for the first time, the appreciation seemed to cross allegiances. Only Triple Crown winner and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera drew a larger ovation.
Martinez took a hit-by-pitch off his right shin pad and didn't even flinch. He flew out to center in his next plate appearance, then grounded out on comebacker before calling it a day.
He'll be back in the lineup Saturday for the Tigers' Grapefruit League home opener. At some point, Leyland will have to rest him a day, but that probably won't be soon.
"I'm basically going to go by Victor and the trainers," Leyland said.
Collins makes impression with two extra-base hits
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Don't add Tyler Collins to the Tigers' outfield mix just yet. Unlike top prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, Collins got a full season at Class A Lakeland last year, putting him on track for Double-A Erie this year.
Still, of all the non-roster invites with no chance of making the team out of Spring Training, Collins might have the chance to make the biggest impression. With a diving catch, a triple, a double and the game's first run in Friday's 2-1 win over the Braves, his first impression is pretty well set.
Really, it was set before. Manager Jim Leyland had already remarked this week that Collins is an "all-out player."
Friday's performance did nothing to challenge that, nor did Collins' reaction afterwards.
"I only have one speed, guys. That's full speed," Collins said with a smile. "If I play full speed and leave it all out on the field, there's nothing else I can do. If they like what they see, then I'm going to continue to keep playing hard."
Almost as soon as Collins entered the game in right field in the bottom of the sixth inning, he was running down a shallow flare down the right-field line. Collins dove head first towards the line, keeping his glove off the ground to make the catch.
Two innings later, his leadoff triple not only gave Detroit its first hit, it also ignited the two-run rally that provided the difference in the game. Jeff Kobernus' ensuing triple allowed Collins to trot home instead of needing to slide.
The dirt stains had already set in by then.
"He's one of those guys that normally on any night, his uniform will be really dirty when the game is over," Leyland said.
Collins already had a little Spring Training experience, having been an extra player for a few games last spring. He stayed in Lakeland for the season and hit .290 with 35 doubles, 66 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in high Class A ball.
Like Andy Dirks, he's a left-handed hitter who can play around the outfield. Also like Dirks, he could take advantage of a strong Spring Training. For one day, though, he can just enjoy the spotlight.
Leyland will play all his starters in spring home opener
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jim Leyland remembers being a player staying at Tigertown in the 1960s and seeing nothing but Michigan license plates on the cars parked on the streets when he'd go into town. He'll been reminded of that when he gets back to Joker Marchant Stadium and sees bunches of Tigers fans around his hotel.
With that in mind, Leyland said he plans on putting his starting lineup on the field for at least the first few innings of their Grapefruit League home opener Saturday afternoon against the Blue Jays. He wants to give fans who made the trip from Michigan, and other parts of the Midwest, something to see in this early part of camp.
"I think it's good to announce those guys and let them trot out there the first day," Leyland said. "Maybe it sounds silly, but I think it's kind of neat. I mean, we are coming off an American League championship, and they can welcome Torii Hunter, and Victor's back."
• The Tigers cut their number of unsigned players on their 40-man rosters in half on Friday, announcing one-year agreements with seven players.
The list includes relievers Al Alburquerque, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Ortega and Brayan Villarreal, along with lefty Drew Smyly, catcher Bryan Holaday and outfielder Andy Dirks.
All the players who signed, and all seven left to sign, have too little service time to qualify for arbitration. The Tigers can continue to negotiate with unsigned players for at least the next week. Detroit can unilaterally renew contracts for its unsigned players as early as March 2.
• Fans will also get a glimpse of closing candidate Bruce Rondon on Saturday. He won't finish the game, Leyland cautioned, but he's scheduled to pitch sometime after the third inning so that Leyland can get a look at him against members of the Jays' starting lineup.