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V-Mart enters camp healthy, ready to play

Veteran designated hitter was slowed by heart issues in '17
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez isn't ready to call it a career just yet.

Physically, he said, his heart is fine following an ablation procedure last September to correct an irregular heartbeat that hospitalized him twice in 2017. As for his heart for the game, the 39-year-old said he's ready to get back to the plate with a team that has become drastically younger since his last at-bat.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez isn't ready to call it a career just yet.

Physically, he said, his heart is fine following an ablation procedure last September to correct an irregular heartbeat that hospitalized him twice in 2017. As for his heart for the game, the 39-year-old said he's ready to get back to the plate with a team that has become drastically younger since his last at-bat.

"I'm just trying to have fun this last year and help the way I can with these young guys," Martinez said before the Tigers' first full-squad workout on Monday. "Not a lot of people get the opportunity to play every day in the big leagues. I hope they get that and make the most out of it."

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Martinez has had that opportunity for more than a dozen seasons. He was the everyday DH last year, trying to show he still had enough power in his surgically repaired legs to be a run producer in the cleanup spot, when an accelerated heartbeat hospitalized him in June. After two weeks on the disabled list, he returned to action, but he struggled to get back to form. His heart raced again during an August game in Chicago, leading to another trip to the hospital and a season-ending procedure.

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Considering Martinez lost his father to a heart attack when he was young, the situation was admittedly scary.

"I took it one thing at a time, and I let the doctor check things out and do his job," Martinez said. "He told me that a lot of professional athletes like basketball players get that a lot, so I was going to be able to come back and play."

Martinez was cleared to resume training early in the offseason. He was on medication until the holidays.

"I did pretty much what I [usually] do in the offseason," Martinez said, "just that it took a little longer than usual. But nothing special. I was able to do the regular stuff that I usually do every year."

Martinez had a couple of well-struck drives during batting practice on Monday morning, taking teammate Alex Wilson deep. Martinez did not do much field work, though manager Ron Gardenhire said on Monday afternoon that he's good with whatever Martinez wants to do.

"I don't think he's going to do too much work on the infield," Gardenhire said. "I don't expect him to. I want him to hit. I want him to stay healthy and hit for us. I'll talk to him as we go along and see what his thoughts are. If he's feeling good one day and he wants to get out there at first base, I know he's done it, I've watched him do it against us, and maybe so. But right now, I just want him to get through Spring Training healthy."

Such is reality for a player who had knee surgeries before his heart issues, and turns 40 years old in December.

"When I came into the big leagues, I was 22, 23 years old, and I used to see the veteran guys going into the hot tub," Martinez said. "And they were like, 'Yeah, wait till you're 30.' Now I thank God, and I'm really thankful that God let me get to this point and give me the opportunity, because now I know what they were talking about. It just doesn't get any easier."

Martinez is under contract for $18 million in the final season of the four-year contract he signed after his MVP runner-up effort in 2014. He's not thinking beyond that, and hasn't stated any retirement plans other than tending to his cattle ranch in central Florida whenever he's done.

Shorter-term, Martinez said he has every intention to play this season. If the Tigers decide otherwise, it's up to them.

"The only thing I can do is just go out and give my best," Martinez said. "I'll let them make the decisions. It'll never be on me."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez