Pain finally subdues Martinez
Catcher to have surgery on right elbow, miss six to eight weeks
CLEVELAND -- Victor Martinez had played through a left hamstring strain since Opening Day and right elbow inflammation for more than a month.Finally, the pain got to be too much. "I gave it everything I had for the longest I could," Martinez said. "I just couldn't take it any more." Martinez's breaking point came Wednesday night, when the elbow flared up to a new extreme during a first-inning at-bat against the Twins' Nick Blackburn and forced Martinez to leave the game. On Thursday, Martinez received an MRI exam that revealed what the Indians already suspected. Martinez was playing with loose bodies floating around the back of his elbow. The matter will be addressed through arthroscopic surgery Friday at the Cleveland Clinic, putting Martinez on the shelf for at least six to eight weeks. With Martinez out of the picture, Kelly Shoppach will assume the everyday catching duties. The Indians purchased the contract of Yamid Haad from Triple-A Buffalo to serve as the backup. With second baseman Josh Barfield also headed to the DL on Thursday and infielder Jorge Velandia's contract purchased, the Indians moved Jake Westbrook from the 15-day to the 60-day DL and designated Buffalo right-hander Oneli Perez for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for the new bodies. Martinez first told the Indians he was experiencing elbow soreness when the club was in Cincinnati in mid-May. At that point, the elbow had been bothering him for a couple weeks. The Indians let Martinez play through the elbow and hamstring problems because they felt they were a better team with Martinez in the lineup, even if he wasn't at 100 percent. They hoped he could avoid having the arthroscopic surgery until the offseason. They were wrong. "You have to peel that guy out of the lineup," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said. "He did not want to come out of that lineup." While in the lineup, though, Martinez's contributions began to diminish in early May. After batting .350 in April, Martinez hit just .221 in May and was batting .200 in June. Through it all, he demonstrated an obvious decline in power. He had just 11 doubles and was still searching for his first home run of '08. It is the Indians' hope that the time Martinez misses following surgery will allow his hamstring to get stronger. And the elbow issue at least helps to explain Martinez's power drought. "When I really wanted to put something on a swing, I wasn't able," Martinez said. "Every time I tried to get extension, I felt a sharp pain in my elbow. Man, it was tough. It's tough to play like that." The Indians spoke freely about Martinez's hamstring issue but kept the elbow injury from the media for fear that a track meet would break out on the basepaths. Martinez still managed to throw out 10-of-30 would-be base stealers this season, despite the elbow pain. "He's a gamer," manager Eric Wedge said of Martinez. "There is no 100 percent [health in the big leagues]. These guys probably haven't been 100 percent since Little League. You've got to be tough and play nicked up, and Victor is one of the toughest I've ever been around." The Indians have had their share of tough luck on the injury front this season. In addition to losing Martinez and Barfield on Thursday, they already have designated hitter Travis Hafner out at least another two weeks with a right shoulder strain, starter Fausto Carmona out another couple weeks with a left hip strain and starter Jake Westbrook out for the year after he had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery performed on his elbow Thursday. Martinez's loss will be felt on a club that values the leadership he brings to the clubhouse and the dugout on a nightly basis. That leadership revealed itself in the way Martinez tried to play through pain. "I was just sticking with my teammates," he said. "We go through all this together." Now, Martinez will go it alone on the rehab front. "So far, it's been a tough year, as a team and individually for me," he said. "But you know what? I've been giving it everything I've got. Hopefully, everything goes right and I'll be able to play again this year. We'll see what happens. I'm going to do my best to rehab and come back."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.