CLEVELAND -- Victor Martinez's return to the Tigers lineup is now in sight -- and it comes none too soon for Detroit's offense.
With of his health hurdles cleared, Martinez headed on Sunday for Pawtucket, where he'll join Triple-A Toledo for a rehab assignment as the Mud Hens' designated hitter for the final two games of their series on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. Assuming Martinez remains healthy, he'll return to Detroit in time to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, the first day he's eligible.
The stint with Toledo is meant purely to get Martinez at-bats and get his timing back. He is not expected to catch there, and he likely won't be catching much, if at all, right away with the Tigers. What that means for the club's roster decisions when he returns -- whether they'll need to keep Omir Santos as a third catcher, or another position player will head out -- remains to be seen.
At this point, the important part for the Tigers is getting Martinez and his veteran presence back in the middle of a Tigers lineup that has struggled mightily for most of the past week. They entered Sunday batting .223 with a .603 OPS over the course of five straight losses. They closed out April with a .249 team batting average, their lowest for that month since the 2003 team batted .182 in April on its way to a 119-loss season.
The low point arguably came on Saturday, when the Indians intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera in the first and fifth innings rather than pitch to him with a man on base. Both times, Indians rookie Alex White retired Brennan Boesch on his way to an 0-for-6 evening.
That's the lineup spot where Martinez would be hitting, if not for the strained right groin that sidelined him April 19. That's where he'll most likely return on Wednesday, though the Tigers also have a lack of production in front of Cabrera with Magglio Ordonez's slow start.
"If [Martinez is] ready, I'll probably put him right there behind Miguel right away," manager Jim Leyland said on Sunday morning.
Martinez's return will by no means be a cure-all for the Tigers' offensive woes, but it will give the Tigers a veteran presence. Leyland made it clear on Saturday night that the rest of the offense will have to improve its approach from Saturday's loss and be more selective at the plate.