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Pregame notes from Lakeland

Posted by Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff  March 15, 2011 11:35 AM

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Victor Martinez says he bears no ill feelings against the Red Sox after contract negotiations stalled with the Red Sox and he signed a free-agent deal with the Tigers in the offseason. Martinez, in fact, thanked the Red Sox organization for the opportunity and the Red Sox fans for their support.

The Red Sox face the Tigers today at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Martinez was a hugely popular player on the team and manager Terry Francona commented earlier that he was amazed at how quickly Martinez became a leader on the team.

The biggest reunion, however, seemed to come with Martinez' son, 6-year-old Victor Jose, who became everyone's son. He was particularly close to Francona, who thought of him as another son. Victor Jose came into the Sox' clubhouse before the game and said hello to all his old friends. He was quite amused to find out Daisuke Matsuzaka was pitching.

"I know someone who is going to be pitching to my dad today!," he said. He was also funny with Daniel Nava, took his glove and said, "It's still lefthanded?"

The older Martinez spent time with Francona, Jason Varitek, and Gary Tuck among others.

"It's always nice to see old friends," he said. "I was really looking forward to it."

He mentioned it was tough on his son.

"We had to talk to him a lot. We tried to make him understand that this is the hard part of the game. This is a great organization, too, and he's getting along well, too."

Martinez said Victor Jose had become close to D'Angelo Ortiz, David's young son, and when he saw the Red Sox were coming said, "I want to see D'Angelo."

"I said I'm not sure you're going to see him. I didn't know if David was gonna make the trip," Martinez said.

He didn't.

Francona said earlier that he didn't think Martinez enjoyed DHing and always wanted to play first base when he wasn't catching. Those opportunities should be fewer in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera at first base, unless Cabrera's off-field issues become larger.

"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," Martinez said. "They asked me if I was good with it. I'm gonna do my best."

Asked if it might preserve his body, he said "I can answer that question after the season."

He went on to say of Boston, "It was a great experience for me and my family. 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 for me."

Martinez said he had no feel for his plight after the season ended. He wanted to return to Boston, but the Red Sox drew the line on how much they were willing to pay.

"I went into the offseason like every offseason and get ready to play where ever I go. It didn't work out with the Red Sox. I'm on a team now and organization where we have a pretty good chance to win," he said.

Surprised it didn't work out?

"It is what it is. I understand it's a business. I'm happy. I'm gonna take this opportunity to thank the Red Sox organization and fans. It was one of the best experiences for my career and family. There's no hard feeling at all. I wish that every single guy who played had this chance. I have no words to describe my time there," Martinez said..

On Boston's offseason acquisitions: "They just got better, stronger. They have a stronger pitching staff. It's gonna be tough. Too bad last year a lot of people got hurt."

On catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: "He definitely has the ability. He's going to do a good job - hard worker, smart guy. I believe at this point, he's mature. He's gonna be good."

Martinez thinks the presence of Varitek was good for him, and will be good for Salty.

"He's big (Varitek)," Martinez said. "I don't get tired saying it. If Jason wasn't there when I got there, it would have been way different for me. Jason helped me a lot. He's unbelievable."

Other news:

Matsuzaka makes his first start today in his new routine of long-tossing and pitching a bullpen session on separate days. We'll see if it's made a difference. Francona hoped that Matsuzaka will "pound the strike zone and throw every pitch with a purpose." He'll throw about 75 pitches.

More lineup talk: I asked Francona if he felt Adrian Gonzalez hitting fifth would be too far down in the order. He said, "I don't think it matters. I think it matters who is hitting around him and he was in between Youk and 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 didn't discount that the lineup could change depending whether there's a lefthander or righthander, but also said that he didn't expect any drastic changes either.

Francona thinks the last two weeks of the spring camp will help yield some interesting decisions, especially for the final two bullpen spots. The lefties - Denny Reyes, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller and Hideki Okajima - have all pitched well. Righty Matt Albers seems to be the frontrunner for the righty job. Alfredo Aceves and Scott Atchison could start their seasons at Pawtucket, but there's a long way to go before all is decided.

Francona gave a straight "No" answer to whether in his mind there was any competition for the closer spot. He again made it clear that Papelbon is the closer. He did commend the work done by both Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks. He said of Bard, "He's the best weapon we got. Not having to pigeon-hole him in a certain role is great for us." Francona also acknowledged that Bard would someday be a closer.

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