LAKELAND, Fla. -- Say what you will about Spring Training games meaning little. They mean something to Victor Martinez.
Friday's Grapefruit League opener means a lot, maybe more than any Spring Training game in his career. Whether the stats count or not, it'll be his first game since the 2011 ALCS. And yet, it'll mean much more than that.
It means the lost season from knee surgery is over.
"I finally wake up from that nightmare," Martinez said.
If that term sounds a bit strong, consider that Martinez only visited camp once or twice last year while he was recovering from surgery. It was too tough on his emotions to be around knowing he wouldn't be able to play, having blown out his left knee working out last January.
He has been working out with everyone else in this year's camp for a week. Now it's time for him to see real pitching in actual games and see how his knees react.
The Tigers won't bring their entire projected Opening Day lineup to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex for Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Braves, but they'll bring the middle of their lineup. Martinez in particular was a no-brainer. He lives in the Orlando area and can drive to the complex in about 20-25 minutes. With the Braves agreeing to allow a designated hitter for the game, Martinez doesn't have to play in the field to get at-bats.
Most important, he's healthy and ready to go.
"He's one of those who have so much appreciation for the game, he's in hog heaven right now," manager Jim Leyland said. "He really missed it. He's just thrilled to be back in uniform and out on the field. He's like a little kid."
Like a kid, he was already looking forward to his big day, a day ahead of time. He'll bat fifth in the lineup after Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, meaning he'll step to the plate in the first or second inning against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson.
Realistically, he could've been facing a Minor League starter and it wouldn't have mattered for him. After seeing nothing but games on television and rehab work last season, he just wants to get into a game.
"It's going to feel great, that's for sure," Martinez said. "It'll be exciting. Even a Spring Training game, I'm really excited to get back in there."
At some point, he'll probably get some sort of activity that will test his confidence in his knee, whether he tries to stretch out an extra-base hit or makes a lunge to first base. He's not worried about that because he's not taking anything for granted after no live pitching for a year.
"The first step is hit the ball," he said, "and see what happens."
Leyland has no hesitation.
"Victor looks, knock on wood, 100 percent," he said. "I think that's all behind him."
The Tigers' double-play combination of Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta will join Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez in Friday's starting lineup. Quintin Berry is scheduled to lead off and play center field, while former Braves prospect Brayan Pena will catch. The corner outfield spots will be manned by top hitting prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos, who will bat eighth and ninth respectively.