The impact of Victor Martinez’s absence in 2008 can be analyzed in numbers. A two-time All-Star who owns a Silver Slugger award and a .298 career batting average is going to leave a gaping hole in the middle of a team’s lineup. But statistics can’t fully explain what Martinez’s missing two and a half months last year did to the Cleveland Indians.
The impact of Victor Martinez’s absence in 2008 can be analyzed in numbers.
A two-time All-Star who owns a Silver Slugger award and a .298 career batting average is going to leave a gaping hole in the middle of a team’s lineup.
But statistics can’t fully explain what Martinez’s missing two and a half months last year did to the Cleveland Indians.
“We lost a helluva lot more than him as a player,” Manager Eric Wedge said this week from Goodyear, Ariz.
What the Indians missed was Martinez’s voice. In a clubhouse that can be described on the quiet side, Martinez is anything but, both in volume and personality.
Now healthy after battling elbow and hamstring problems in 2008, Wedge already has seen examples of the Martinez effect early in this spring training.
Whether it’s talking to fellow catcher Kelly Shoppach about new starting pitcher Carl Pavano’s mound session, or giving non-roster invitee Tomo Ohka a hard time during batting practice, Martinez is the man in the middle of everything for the Tribe.
David Huff, the talented young left-hander battling for a rotation spot, received some on-the-job training from Martinez this week.
“The kid Huff was throwing it to him in live BP and he hung a breaking ball,” Wedge said. “(Victor) told him to throw it again. Then he threw it in the dirt like he was supposed to. (Victor) gives him the thumbs up when he’s up there working himself. That’s good stuff.”
Wedge can’t pinpoint the moment when he thought the 30-year-old Martinez, starting his sixth full year in the big leagues, grabbed the reins of leadership with the Tribe.
“I think it gradually happened over time,” Wedge said. “A lot it has to do with his position. A lot of it has to do with his emotions. He’s a very emotional person, a very emotional player. He’s very passionate. I think it’s as personal to him as anybody. Our winning and losing ‹ and we’ve got a lot of good guys in there ‹ he feels it as much, if not more, than anybody in there.”
A call away
Wedge got on the phone this winter when he heard former major league left-hander Frank Viola was thinking about getting back into the game. Wedge played briefly with Viola in Boston. Pitching coach Carl Willis was a teammate of Viola’s with the Twins.
The phone call materialized into Viola coming to Indians camp as a special consultant.
“The first thing that came to mind was all these left-handed starters we have,” Wedge said. “What a great fit. And I know from catching him he had the best changeup I ever caught from a left-hander. Just when you thought he had subtracted from it all he could, he’d take a little more off.
“He was a big guy that stayed in his delivery, was consistent with his release point, threw the ball where he wanted and threw harder than most people thought. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball for 10 years.”
Viola owns 176 major league wins and took home the American League Cy Young award in 1988, when he went 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA for the Twins. The consulting work could lead to a more substantial role in Cleveland’s organization.
The World Baseball Classic starts March 5. The Indians have five players participating. They are Grady Sizemore and Mark DeRosa (USA), Masa Kobayashi (Japan), Shin-Soo Choo (Korea) and Rafael Perez (Dominican).
Wedge has mixed feelings about the WBC -- in its second edition after debuting in 2006.
“They tried to make it a little bit later this time, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “... It’s a great promotion of baseball. It’s great for international baseball. It’s patriotic for everybody, regardless of where you’re from. But I think it is tough on the players, physically.”
Look at the kid
DeRosa leaving camp could open more reps for Wes Hodges at third base. Hodges, 24, who batted .290 with 18 home runs and 97 RBIs at Double-A Akron last year, is making a good early impression on Wedge.
“Nice swing,” Wedge said. “For a young player he does a nice job of staying in the middle of the diamond, especially for big young player. Usually they like to hook it.”
Reach Repository sports writer Josh Weir at (330) 580-8426 or e-mail email@example.com