It's far from definite, but what looked like a lost year for Martinez -- with a catastrophic knee injury -- now has a real hope for a return to action for the slugger near the end of the season.
Martinez had been scheduled for reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, which he tore during offseason workouts in January. That surgery was called off after the doctor treating him found his knee had healed enough that he didn't need it.
Instead, Martinez underwent a more minor procedure to help the healing process, which has already progressed further than expected.
"We'll know more in July when we do an MRI on [the knee]," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Wednesday morning. "It is a better-case scenario. If he had to the ACL reconstruction, he would have definitely been done for the season. This gives him a chance. When we evaluate the MRI in July, there may be a chance."
The surprising news adds another potential cog to a Tigers lineup that already looks formidable through four games, with the combination of Cabrera and Fielder in the middle of the order.
Martinez underwent microfracture surgery on the knee Jan. 27 to repair some of the damage, including meniscus tears. The timetable from Dr. Richard Steadman then called for Martinez to rehab for about seven weeks, then undergo the ACL procedure once he had sufficiently healed from the microfracture and meniscus surgeries.
As it turned out, he healed better than planned. Dr. Steadman spaced out the procedures to allow for the possibility he wouldn't need the second surgery, but it was more of a long shot.
"It doesn't happen often," Rand said, "but he felt that the ligament was definitely stable. And so he felt that a full reconstruction wasn't necessary."
Rand didn't want to put a timetable on a potential Martinez return until he has the followup MRI, but he said the typical recovery from microfracture surgery alone is about seven months. History has shown widely different results for different players. Carlos Guillen took close to a year after his surgery two years ago, while Clete Thomas had midseason surgery in 2010 and was taking part in full workouts the next spring. Indians All-Star Grady Sizemore fell somewhere in between, though he missed time with other injuries last year.
A seven-month timetable would put Martinez into late August for a possible return. Rand didn't want to confirm that, but he said it would be difficult to expect anything sooner.
Martinez batted .330 last year with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs, providing the veteran presence and productive hitting the Tigers needed behind Miguel Cabrera in the order. When the Tigers thought they'd lost him for the year, they signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.