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Red Sox notebook

Tiger’s tale — he’s thankful

Martinez lauds his former team

Detroit’s Victor Martinez has a laugh with catcher Jason Varitek in the second inning. Detroit’s Victor Martinez has a laugh with catcher Jason Varitek in the second inning. (David Goldman/Associated Press)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 16, 2011

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LAKELAND, Fla. — There was some angst early in the offseason when the Red Sox bought a soccer team and let Victor Martinez leave as a free agent for Detroit.

The Nation was up in arms, wondering how they were going to replace their No. 3 hitter and catcher. And what if ownership cared more about soccer than baseball?

Well, they did and they don’t.

Martinez wound up passing on Boston’s four-year, $40 million offer and got a four-year, $52 million deal from the Tigers. There were reports from the V-Mart camp that he was puzzled by what he perceived as a lack of interest by the Red Sox in retaining him. He wasn’t alone.

The Sox’ thinking was that they didn’t want to commit more than three years to him as a catcher, and though he seems to be a player who can hit for a long time, they didn’t want to overpay a DH.

Manager Terry Francona is a Martinez fan, but he had faith that Theo Epstein had a plan.

A trade for Adrian Gonzalez and a Carl Crawford signing later, and there’s nary a word about Martinez anymore.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the new flavor of the month — another switch-hitting catcher — and if the Red Sox get lucky, he’ll be the second coming of Martinez. But don’t hold your breath on Saltalamacchia being that superb a hitter. The hope is that he will be a better catcher than Martinez.

Martinez, who had one of the Tigers’ two hits against Daisuke Matsuzaka in yesterday’s 2-1 Red Sox win, said he bears no ill will. In fact, he thanked the Sox organization for the opportunity here and the fans for their support.

“It was a great experience for me and my family,’’ he said. “My family and sons, they miss the Red Sox. They treated my family first-class. As a player, that’s what you’re looking for. One of the best experiences of my career.’’

Martinez said he wanted to return but the Sox drew the line on how much they were willing to pay.

“I understand it’s a business,’’ he said. “I’m happy. I’m going to take this opportunity to thank the Red Sox organization and fans.

“I wish that every single guy who played had this chance. I have no words to describe my time there.’’

Martinez was a hugely popular player on the team, and Francona was amazed at how quickly he became a leader.

As for Detroit, Martinez said, “I came over here because they were very clear to me. They told me from the start that I’d be catching two or three times a week and DH the rest of the time. They asked me if I was good with it. I’m going to do my best.’’

Asked if that kind of workload might preserve his body, he said, “I can answer that question after the season.’’

Good company Asked if hitting fifth was too far down the order for Gonzalez, who was in that slot Monday against the Yankees, Francona said, “I don’t think it matters. I think it matters who is hitting around him and he was in between Youk [Kevin Youkilis] and [David] Ortiz. There could be worse guys.’’ Francona’s lineup isn’t etched in stone, but it’s looking more and more as if Carl Crawford will hit third . . . Francona said the last two weeks of spring camp will bring some interesting decisions, especially for the final two bullpen spots. The lefties (Denny Reyes, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Hideki Okajima) all have pitched well. Matt Albers seems to be the front-runner for the righty job. Alfredo Aceves and Scott Atchison could start the season at Pawtucket, but there’s a long way to go.

Lively ball While Albers allowed a home run to Miguel Cabrera yesterday, Francona said he loves Albers’s stuff. “He’s got a lot of life on his fastball through the zone,’’ said Francona. “Two-seam sink. The couple of mistakes he’s made this spring have been on breaking balls. Made much better ones today. He gave up a long one today to a guy who’s going to hit a lot of long ones.’’ . . . Darnell McDonald won yesterday’s game with a 10th-inning homer. “Good managing on my part,’’ said Francona. “I was going to take him out and he pleaded for another at-bat and so I gave in and he whacked the game-winning homer. He took a real nice swing. So didn’t Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury, who homered in the fourth off Justin Verlander].’’ It was impressive that Ellsbury hit his second homer of the spring off someone with Verlander’s credentials, but he’s not getting homer-crazy. “I don’t worry about it,’’ said Ellsbury, who is batting .414. “I just want to square the ball up and keep it simple. In spring training, it’s nice to see someone like Verlander, proven pitcher, so it’s nice to get a hit off him.’’ Ellsbury also ran a long way to track down a drive to deep center by Cabrera . . . Crawford went 0 for 3 and is hitting .172. He batted second in yesterday’s lineup . . . Cuban outfielder Juan Carlos Linares looked uncomfortable in batting practice and was diagnosed with right biceps tendinitis. He is day-to-day.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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