V-Mart expected to miss 4-6 weeks following surgery

On the same day the Tigers loaded up their equipment truck headed for Spring Training, they received a major message of assurance that Victor Martinez should be ready when the team heads back north for Opening Day.

Martinez underwent surgery as scheduled on a torn medial meniscus in his left knee Tuesday morning, but is expected to return to full activity in four to six weeks, putting him on track to be ready when the Tigers start their regular season April 6.

“We are very happy the surgery went well and that Victor will be ready to compete for the start of the 2015 season,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement.

Considering the Tigers had held off on any timetable for Martinez until Dr. James Andrews went into the knee and performed surgery Tuesday morning, it was a strong statement from Dombrowski.

“Obviously that gives him a chance,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, “to be hopefully playing the latter part of Spring Training and give him enough at-bats. That’s obviously the hope.”

Martinez, who suffered the injury during baseball workouts two weeks ago, underwent a partial menisectomy, clipping the torn portion rather than doing a full reattachment. Rand described it as a bucket handle tear, in which the central portion of the meniscus tears and flips into the joint.

“It was not going to be repairable,” Rand said.

A full repair and reattachment could have sidelined the 36-year-old Martinez anywhere from three to six months. The different recovery periods made the difference in the procedures crucial to the Tigers’ fortunes.

Dombrowski had held off on discussing how they might fill Martinez’s spot until they knew how long he’d be out, saying he didn’t know what he’d have to fill. With Martinez on track to be ready on Opening Day or shortly thereafter, Dombrowski confirmed the Tigers won’t be looking to add anybody as a fill-in.

Martinez will be on crutches until the swelling goes down. From there, Rand said, they’ll work on getting range of motion back in his knee before ramping up activity.

“Then we’ll be able to work the muscles in and around the joint,” Rand said. “Vic was in great shape prior to the surgery. That should really bode well for his rehab.”

Scherzer to WDFN: We saw this coming two years ago

At some point two years ago, Max Scherzer said, he and fellow Tigers starter Rick Porcello looked at each other and saw this time coming, when Detroit’s rotation would have to be broken up.

“We sat on the bench and we saw this coming really two years ago,” Scherzer told Matt Shepard on WDFN Friday morning. “We saw where everybody was at in their contracts. We sat there and realized this team is going to get a major facelift in the next two years. There’s just no way you can keep everybody on board.”

That was around the time the Tigers signed Justin Verlander to his contract extension. Until then, Verlander and Scherzer were both on track to become free agents in the same offseason, with Porcello on track a year later.

“We looked at each other,” Scherzer continued, “like, ‘Which one of us is going to go?'”

Turns out, it was both of them — Scherzer as a free agent, Porcello via trade.

Much like Scherzer’s decision to sign his seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals last month, he said, it’s part of the business. Scherzer tried to explain his side of it.

“I realize how fortunate I am and how blessed I am to be in this position,” he told Shepard. “This was never about greed or I need more money per se, but it was about a business decision and trying to maximize what you’re worth. And for me, I was in the position to take full advantage of that and the Nationals came through and put a contract offer in front of me that … was jaw-dropping. …

“It’s the business part of the game. The business part of the game is ugly. I mean, look at it from the other side. I’ve seen so many of my friends get cut and released and all taken advantage of because at the end of the day, we say it’s the business part of the game. I just took advantage of the business side of the game to benefit me. For fans and everybody, it’s a hard concept to see. You get emotionally attached to your sports teams, but the players, we live and breathe the business side of the game because it’s right in front of us all the time. For players, it is a part of what goes on.”

Scherzer said the six-year, $144 million offer from the Tigers last spring was the last of their negotiations. He didn’t want to talk during the season, and there wasn’t much contact after the season ended.

“There was a point in time when we reached out to the Tigers to see if they were still interested,” Scherzer said, “and they conveyed to us that they weren’t, that they were fine with where their rotation was at moving forward. And that’s just kind of how we left it.”

When Scherzer had his press conference in D.C., much was made of his comment that the Nationals offered the best chance to win. He tried to clarify that Friday, saying the Nationals had the best chance to win among his choices.

“I never once ever said Detroit couldn’t win,” Scherzer said. “I actually do think Detroit can win. I think Detroit has a very good ballclub and they’re going to be a tough team in the American League. They just weren’t one of the teams in the final [mix]. …

“Of the teams that were really down to the end, the Nationals to me gave me the best opportunity. So because of that, that’s the reason why I told Scott [Boras] at the end, ‘Let’s just negotiate with the Nationals.'”

Bottom line, he said, “I had a great time in Detroit. It’s not like I left Detroit on bad terms. But it’s like that for all sports, every city. All fans get attached to the guys they get to see every single night, and and the talent we bring to the table. It’s just part of the game of how this goes down.”

More from Scherzer:

  • On his full-page ad in Detroit newspapers thanking fans: “You can’t please everybody. I’m over trying to please everybody. It was me personally trying to say, ‘Look, my time here in Detroit was absolutely special. It’s something I’ll never forget.’ I’ve had some of the best moments in my career, in my entire life really, there in Detroit. I just wanted to take a chance and put it out and say I really thank everybody who was a fan of me and appreciated watching me. It was very much appreciated and something I’ll never forget.”
  • On what he’ll miss: “I think it’s just everything — the clubhouse, wearing the olde English D, everything about it, Mr. I, the whole thing. It’s tough, but that’s the way things go sometimes. That chapter in my life here in Detroit was great, and I just look forward to going on to what I’m going to do next.”
  • On Nationals rotation compared to Tigers rotation: “The only thing I can really say is obviously on paper it looks good, but I’ve got to see these guys up close and personal to really see what they can bring to the table. I know what I saw in Detroit. I got to watch every single guy go about their business and try to emulate one thing from everybody. That’s what it looks like I’ll be able to do here in Washington as well. They have an unbelievably talented rotation and you just sit back and watch every single night and watch what they do, pick apart what they do well.”

How much time could Victor Martinez miss?

The Tigers announced Thursday that Victor Martinez will have surgery next week for a torn left medial meniscus. They did not, however, announce how much time he might miss. There’s a good reason for that, because the type of surgery Dr. James Andrews performs will have a major difference in the recovery time, and it won’t be apparent which procedure makes the most sense until Dr. Andrews goes in.

When Martinez tore his ACL and meniscus in the same knee a few years ago, one of the experts I talked to was Dr. Victor Khabie, Chief of Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY. He had a good grasp on the type of surgeries Martinez had, both to repair the ACL and the meniscus. When I called him again Thursday, he knew what I was going to ask about.

The minor surgery is called a partial meniscectomy, in which a little bit of the meniscus is clipped. The major surgery is a reattachment, in which the damaged meniscus is put back together.

“The difference,” he said, “is where the meniscus is torn, and how much of the meniscus is broken. There are areas where the meniscus has a good blood supply. If it’s torn in that specific spot, all systems have to be right.”

The difference is a recovery that weeks and one that takes months.

“Most ballplayers at his level, especially since he’s had multiple surgeries, are going to want to go in and do a clipping,” Dr. Khabie said. “One, because it gets you back much quicker. Two, because the tear isn’t in that specific zone. Ninety percent of the tears are not in that critical zone.”

Age is also a factor, because the blood flow — and thus, the healing potential — often aren’t as good.

The recovery timetable for the more minor surgery is often four to six weeks. Because Martinez had previous surgeries on the knee, Dr. Khabie said, they could be more cautious and give him more like six to eight weeks if he has that procedure. That would take him to mid to late March.

“This could be a little different than, say, someone who had the surgery but had no prior problems,” he said.

By contrast, the full reattachment can take several months.

Long-term, the clean-out has effects, such as the possibility of arthritis. However, that would be more of a factor after his playing days are done, and he’s sitting around watching his son Victor Jose try to make it in baseball.

V-Mart tears left medial meniscus in workouts

For the second time in four years, Victor Martinez has suffered a major knee injury during offseason workouts. This one doesn’t appear to be as severe, but it’ll put the start of his season in question.

The Tigers announced Thursday that Martinez has torn the medial meniscus in left knee. Martinez tore the cartilage last week during workouts in Florida, and underwent an MRI and exam on Wednesday in Lakeland, where the extent of the injury became clear.

Noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery next Tuesday at his clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The Tigers aren’t giving a timetable until then. Past timetables in baseball have been six to eight weeks, though Phillies slugger Ryan Howard missed the second half of the 2013 season after suffering a similar injury in July of that year.

Martinez, who turned 36 in December, finished runner-up to Mike Trout for American League MVP honors last year, batting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs. His presence was supposed to help balance the Tigers offense while Miguel Cabrera recovers from offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot.

Tigers have three Sunday night games in May

Some eyebrows were raised when the Tigers did not show up on ESPN’s early slate of Sunday night games. That changed drastically in May.

Detroit will be on Sunday Night Baseball three times in a four-week stretch, all of them 8pm ET starts. Only one of those games will be at Comerica Park, so those worried about changing weekend plans shouldn’t worry too much.

The stretch begins May 10, when the back end of the Royals-Tigers clash hits the national spotlight. ESPN passed on the May 3 meeting between the two teams in Kansas City, picking up Yankees-Red Sox instead. That made the rematch in Detroit make a lot more sense. The Tigers are off the next day and host the Twins after that, so it works out fine for them.

The Tigers are in St. Louis the next weekend, and the Cardinals have been a frequent Sunday night team for ESPN over the years. Thus, their May 17 series finale against the Cardinals made the list.

Detroit’s May 24 game against Houston remains a day game at Comerica Park. The next weekend, however, they’ll be out on the West Coast to face the Angels. The May 31 series finale will be on Sunday night, or late Sunday afternoon Pacific Time.

Add it up, and as Bill Shaikin of the LA Times astutely pointed out, only the Yankees (with four appearances) have more Sunday night games through May.

Dombrowski: Fix offense by hitting to opposite field

Dave Dombrowski doesn’t believe eliminating or restricting defensive shifts is the solution to rekindling offense in baseball. He thinks one key to getting hitters going again is the hitters themselves.

It was a response to a question from somebody Tuesday at the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association winter luncheon, where Dombrowski usually makes his last appearance before Spring Training. It was an interesting response from one of the senior team executives in the game.

“I’m not an advocate of [outlawing shifts],” Dombrowski said, “but I know I’ve heard people discuss it. I don’t like the idea, but there are some people in our front office that think it’s a good idea. I think it’s a mistake. You should never penalize intellect, so if you’re smart enough to play players in certain positions, you shouldn’t be penalized for that.

“I think one of the biggest problems that we have is that, and I’ve talked about it before, is players have gotten away from using the whole field. Now, pitching is better than ever. I mean, you see these guys come in from the bullpen, and nowadays the average velocity out of the bullpen is 93+. When I first broke in, the average fastball was, say, 89-90 miles an hour. Now it’s 91+, and in the bullpen almost 94. So velocity has improved. But I think overall, hitting is tougher, facing more guys with more pitches, but using the whole field will help offense. So to me, instead of saying you can’t play that person there, what you need to do is be in a position where that hitter needs to take advantage of driving the ball the other way.”

Dombrowski had talked about that earlier in the luncheon, using J.D. Martinez as an example. He believes Yoenis Cespedes could find the same benefit once he has a chance to settle in and watch Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez at work.

“I think in today’s game, one of the reasons offense is down is that people have become pull-oriented,” Dombrowski said. “I think a guy like Cespedes, for example, will benefit a great deal being around Miguel and Victor on a daily basis. Cespedes, he can use the whole field. When he was a youngster and we saw him, he would drive that ball to right field and right-center. I haven’t been around him quite as much of course over the last few years, but when he’s around them and how they use the whole field, I think that will be good for his approach.

“Sometimes guys, they’re not purposely doing it, they’re just like, ‘OK, I’m going to start pulling the ball more.’ But when you’re around Miguel and Victor, these guys talk hitting all the time. [Nick] Castellanos, I know he’s a rookie and he didn’t hit .300 his first year, but he kept his head above water and did well for a club that’s in contention, which is not easy to do as a 21-year-old rookie. He has a good approach. When you start talking to him, part of the reason he’s learned some of the things he’s done is watching those guys over the last year.”

On J.D. Martinez, Dombrowski said, “Look at how he used the opposite field. Look at how he drove the ball out of the ballpark to right field and to center field. A lot of hitters don’t do that, and I think that … again, if you use the whole field, part of the thing is you usually have less holes, you’re in a spot where you can drive more pitches rather than just have one zone that you can handle. And J.D. definitely benefited, and we saw how good of a hitter he became as the year progressed.”

As far as Tigers related matters, there wasn’t much news coming out of the lunch. Many matters are the same now as they were during TigerFest a week and a half ago. That includes Miguel Cabrera, who’s still working out but is awaiting a follow-up exam next week or the week after to be fully cleared for baseball workouts.

Other Tigers matters:

  • Dombrowski is leaving the door open for another addition on the pitching front, but mainly for minor-league deals. “At this time of year, you see guys sign as non-roster invitees or sign for a little bit,” Dombrowski said. “We’re basically set, but it’s not like you don’t take a phone call or know what else is going on out there. Anything can happen, but we’re basically set with what we’re trying to pursue. … It’s not that we don’t lob a phone call in too, occasionally, to see what somebody’s situation is. But not any high-profile, high-dollar type of situations. A guy may fall through and [we’ll say], ‘Do you want to come to camp? We’ve got a situation that may be available. Would you be interested?'”
  • Nothing has changed with them on Joba Chamberlain or Phil Coke, both of whom remain free agents. Dombrowski hasn’t ruled out either returning, but a source close to Coke said the two sides haven’t talked at all.
  • Dombrowski also said their status hasn’t changed on James Shields from earlier, when he indicated they weren’t pursuing starting pitching.
  • Dombrowski confirmed interest in Cuban shortstop Yoan Moncada, but offered little else. “He’s a good player, no doubt,” Dombrowski said.
  • Asked who could end up competing for the last roster spot, Dombrowski indicated it would likely come down to carrying an extra utility infielder or a fifth outfielder. Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez are competing for the utility infield job, Dombrowski said, while Tyler Collins is part of the outfield mix. “Or [it could be] someone who comes out of the blue that I’m not even thinking about at this point,” Dombrowski said, “because that happens in Spring Training once in a while. I think that [last] guy, whoever he is, is extremely important in the sense that how they fit the manager’s bench, and how he likes to use his club, can make a difference.”

Tigers react to Dave Bergman’s passing

Former Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman passed away Monday following a nearly three-year battle with cancer. Many of his former teammates knew about his situation, but it didn’t make the news any easier to take.

“He made it a lot longer than people thought,” Alan Trammell said. “He battled his butt off. He stayed strong for longer than most. That’s just the kind of person he was. He was always upbeat, talking to him through the stages.”

Trammell had kept in touch with him at least once a month, by his estimation. When Trammell came back to Michigan for the Tigers winter caravan and TigerFest, he visited Bergman at his home. He was one of the last teammates to see him.

“You could see that the cancer, like it does with most people, it ages you,” Trammell said. “But he was still so upbeat. He was always very responsive, still very sharp.”

Jack Morris said he and other former teammates called him from fantasy camp last week to let him know they were thinking of him. Bergman, he said, was talking about his work on the board of the Joe Niekro Foundation, which works to support patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms.

“You knew that he was fighting his best,” said Morris, who saw him last summer.

Said Tom Brookens: “Everybody always was praying for a miracle and for the best. Right now, he’s in a better place than he was here.”

The former teammates talked about Bergman as one of the unsung heroes of the 1984 World Series champions. Just as much, if not more, they talked about Bergman as a better teammate and a great friend.

“Just as a super person,” Trammell said. “When you say better off the field than on, that for me would be for Dave Bergman. He’s a guy who was never the star, but always was one of the main guys on our ballclub as far as team chemistry and a guy you could lean on.”

Said Morris: “I think all of us consider him one of our best teammates. Bergman was a guy who knew his role. He was a competitor, and just a good person, too.”

Part of the latter was his personality.

“He could laugh at himself,” Morris continued. “Therefore, it was easy when he was joking with you, you knew that he could take it too.”

Said Brookens: “He loved to talk baseball, and talk to anyone about the game. That’s always a big help to anybody on the team. His character and makeup, he always had good information. He was always a guy who studied a lot of things. He would actually study the game and pitchers, and he carried that into his business life after his playing days.

“He just had one of those personalities that he always had time for you. Bergie’s the kind of guy, if you needed something, he was there.”

The Tigers had similar sentiments in a statement the team issued on Bergman’s passing:

And then there’s the at-bat: 13 pitches against Toronto’s Roy Lee Jackson with two on in the 10th inning on June 4, 1984, culminating in a walkoff three-run homer.

“That was a classic at-bat,” Trammell said. “We went wire to wire, but there was a time they made a little move on us. That was huge. That was a big part of our season that I know a lot of people will remember, and I know he still remembered it very fondly.”

Said Brookens: “That’s one of them that come along once in a career, I guess. I think that just shows you the kind of battler he was. He refused to give in and give up.”

Moncada worked out for Tigers in Lakeland

Add the Tigers to the growing list of teams with a level of interest in Cuban teenage talent Yoan Moncada. The team brought in the 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder for a workout last week in Lakeland.

Lynn Henning of the Detroit News first reported Sunday the Tigers had seen Moncada work out privately. MLB.com later confirmed the Tigers had brought him in to work out for team officials at the the Tigers’ Spring Training complex. Moncada also worked out for the Rays last week down the road at Tropicana Field.

Moncada had a showcase last month in Guatemala before scouts from most Major League clubs. Moncada established residency in the Central American country and has been heading to the states. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports Moncada has also worked out for the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers and Brewers, with the Cubs, Phillies and Cardinals also interested.

With that much competition, the Tigers’ interest could simply be due diligence at this point, or it could be the prelude for a push depending on how far the bidding goes. A lot might depend on bigger-market teams’ involvement, if indeed they’re allowed to be involved.

Since Moncada is younger than 23 and didn’t play pro ball in Cuba, he’s subject to international signing guidelines, including the bonus restrictions each team is given. Each team gets a $700,000 base pool plus bonuses based on reverse order of finish the previous season. The Tigers had the sixth-lowest spending pool at $1,946,900, while the Astros had just over $5 million.

Fitting Moncada within what’s left of those pools isn’t likely to happen. The key is having money left to spend, and being allowed to spend it.

According to Sanchez, the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Angels all went over their spending limit far enough that they’re in the maximum penalty range for the next signing period, including a 100 percent tax on overage and a ban on signings over $300,000. The next period, however, begins in July. If Moncada signs before June 15, he still counts towards this period, and those teams can go further over their limit to sign him as long as they’re willing to pay the penalty.

The Tigers rarely make big-ticket signings on the international market. They were in the market for Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo last summer and Yoenis Cespedes a few years ago, but they qualified as pro free agents. Moncada’s talent level, however, makes him an exception. The Tigers would be subject to penalties if they signed Moncada, putting a cramp in their efforts to restock a farm system that has been thinned out by trades.  The question is whether the impact of Moncada would be worth the lost flexibility in future years.

Moncada has been unblocked from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to sign with a club, but Major League Baseball is reportedly trying to clear up its policy on signing Cuban players in the wake of recent changes in U.S. relations with Cuba.

Former Tigers pitcher, coach Bill Monbouquette dies at 78

Bill Monbouquette, a former Red Sox pitching great who pitched parts of two seasons with the Tigers and went on to coach in the system for several years, passed away Sunday following a lengthy battle with leukemia, according to various reports.

Monbouquette was a 20-game winner and authored a no-hitter in Boston, where he’s part of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. He came to Detroit after the 1965 season for Jackie Moore, George Smith and George Thomas, then went 7-8 with a 4.73 ERA in 1966 in 14 starts and 16 relief appearances. The wins included a complete-game shutout of the Washington Senators that April 24 on seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts.

Monbouquette ended the season in the bullpen, then made two relief appearances in 1967 before the Tigers released him in May. He returned to the organization years later to serve as a pitching coach in the organization, including at short-season Class A Oneonta. Among his products, according to this obituary from Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald, was a young Tigers draft pick named Justin Verlander.

“I thought Verlander was going to need a year in Triple-A,” Monbouquette said in 2007. “But his stuff was just plain nasty. It was just a matter of time with him.”

Monbouquette was reportedly diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2008.

Alex Avila on catching mask, lower profile and pitch clock

Alex Avila is committed to making the hockey-style catching mask work for him. He is open to lowering his profile behind the plate, open to batting second if that’s what Brad Ausmus wants to do with him. He is less enthusiastic about the potential for a pitch clock in the Major Leagues in future seasons.

“I don’t even want to think about a pitch clock,” Avila said, shuddering. “That sounds ridiculous to me.”

The mask, or at least a prototype of it, is already in, sent in to clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel earlier this month. Avila tried it on Thursday. He expects he’ll have other types to try out in Spring Training, but the general idea is the same. He’s done with the traditional two-piece mask.

“It seems like it’s going to help a great deal,” Avila said. “It’ll take a week or so to get used to, but I think the transition will be pretty easy.”

Even if it isn’t that easy, Avila plans on working through it.

“Eventually I’ll feel comfortable with it,” he said. “I will be wearing it full time.”

Whether it makes a difference will be something worth watching. Though plenty has been written over the last few years about catchers, concussions and the role masks play in them, opinions have been mixed over whether the type of mask makes a difference. Catchers have taken concussions wearing the hockey-style masks, and some catchers switched back to traditional masks as a result. Other studies say one mask or the other protects better depending on the type of impact — direct foul tip, foul off the side, or backswing.

Avila didn’t simply change for the sake of change. He looked into it, specifically the physics.

“For me, always to my knowledge, [the traditional mask] was safe, so what was the point [of changing],” he said. “If I’m going to get a concussion with that, I’ll get a concussion with the other one. But just the design, it’s a little bit different the way the hockey mask is angled, so you’re not taking a direct blow. It’s not as flush. It’ll ricochet off it more. A traditional mask is more flat, so when it hits it’s going straight down or going up, so you’re getting a little bit more of a whiplash.”

It’s the foul tip, particularly off to the side, that has been a problem for Avila in recent years.

The other difference Avila noted was inside the mask.

“What’s different about the hockey-style mask is you can adjust the padding to be a little more custom-fit,” he said. “There’s much more padding in that helmet than there is in the traditional mask.”

That might not be the only change Avila makes for his long-term health. Ausmus said he has talked with Avila about setting up lower behind the plate.

“He really sits up high,” Ausmus said. “We’re going to mess around in Spring Training and see if we can lower him, because the higher you are, the more apt you are to get those foul tips off the top of the bat that are moving up. If you’re a little lower, they miss your head.

“I don’t know how effective that’ll be. It’s tough to change that, but we talked about it. We’re going to take a look at it in the spring, because the concussions are something to be worried about.”

Avila is at least open to it, though admitting that could be tough to change at this point.

“The thing is I’ve caught one way the last six, seven years,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m still comfortable. One of the things I take pride in is blocking pitches. Not too much gets by me, and I want to make sure that I’m comfortable and mobile whatever position I’m in. It’ll be something we take a look at.”

That’s a wholehearted openness to adapt compared with his feelings on the pitch clock proposal that will get a test run at Double-A and Triple-A levels this year after its debut in the Arizona Fall League.

“It’s a terrible idea,” he said. “I’m not a fan of it. I can see it now: The clock going down, the fans going, ‘Five … four … three …’ That’s terrible. It’s a terrible idea. To me that’s not baseball. At all.”

His counter to game length is the break between innings, which differs from locally broadcast games to nationally televised ones.

“There’s no reason to have three or four minutes in between innings,” he said. “If you want to make it faster, you have to look at ways of doing that. It’s the stuff that you’re adding into the game that is what’s making the game long. Players have had routines going in and out of the batter’s box forever. The difference between nowadays and the 80s and the 70s is TV.”

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