By JEFF ROSENFIELD/Associated Press
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) – Judging by the results, Victor Martinez’s return to the Detroit lineup on Sunday was nothing to brag about. That he was in the lineup was all the slugger cared about.
Martinez went 0-3 with a strikeout and a pair of groundouts in a 5-3 split-squad loss to the Braves, his first action of the spring following left knee surgery in February.
Afterward, the 2014 AL MVP runner-up said he was happy with his debut.
“It feels great to get the first one out of the way,” Martinez said. “Everything felt pretty good, coming out of the box and swinging, so I’m happy with how the day went today.”
Martinez said the meniscus injury, which he suffered playing catch with his brother, caused him to flash back to 2012, when a torn ACL in the same knee forced him to miss the entire season.
“I was in a lot of pain, and the first thing that came out of my head was when I lost the whole year in 2012,” he said. “Thank God this wasn’t the case, and I feel pretty good about where I am right now.”
Meanwhile, Braves starter Shelby Miller went five innings with one earned run, four hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
“He pitched really, really well,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the team’s offseason trade acquisition. “He’s progressing well, made some nice pitches early in the game, and it was nice to see that.”
Braves shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, who is trying to make the team as a utility player, helped his cause by going 2 for 3 with three RBIs, including a two-run single in the eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie. Ciriaco is batting .324 this spring.
Tigers: Detroit starter Kyle Lobstein pitched four innings, allowing two runs, both earned, on four hits. The left-hander walked two and struck out one.
Braves: Miller’s performance came on the heels of solid performances by Wandy Rodriguez and Eric Stults.
“There’s always healthy competition, us trying to outdo each other,” Miller said. “It’s in our blood to go out and compete every day, not just against another team, but we compete in the locker room as well.”
Braves: Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis took batting practice Sunday for the third straight day and hit a number of balls hard, including a couple that nearly cleared the right field fence.
“I feel great, just trying to make contact,” he said.
Gonzalez said the 31-year-old, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason and had neck surgery in December, would get his first spring action this week.
“I’m going to DH him tomorrow, get him a couple of at bats, and if everything goes well, he’ll come back here Wednesday and maybe play right field,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the plan.”
The sun at Champions Field played havoc with the left fielders early in the game. Detroit’s Ian Kinsler hit a line drive in the top of the first that went over Jonny Gomes’ head and bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, and in the next half-inning, Tigers’ leftfielder Tyler Collins lost track of Gomes’ high pop-up, allowing Kelly Johnson to score from first base.
Tigers: Anthony Gose, who hit a double down the left field line in the third, is batting .341. He leads the Grapefruit League in triples (3), and is among the leaders in batting average and slugging percentage. Kinsler also has a hot bat, and his first-inning double meant the second baseman has hit safely in 7 of his last 8 games and has his average up to .383.
Braves: 2B Kelly Johnson, who came into the game batting .417 in his last four games, added a single and a walk Sunday. He also scored a run.
COX IN CAMP
Former Braves Manager Bobby Cox was hanging around the dugout prior to Sunday’s game. He spent 25 years as Atlanta’s manager and the four-time Manager of the Year retired following the 2010 season. Cox is one of many Braves legends who were invited to participate in camp this spring, including Fred McGriff, Tom Glavine, Ryan Klesko, Dale Murphy, Charlie Liebrandt and Steve Avery.
Tigers: RHP Anibal Sanchez is scheduled to face New York Yankees’ RHP Esmil Rogers in Tampa on Tuesday.
Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz is scheduled to face the Houston Astros in Kissimmee on Monday.
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