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Victor Martinez on catching knuckleballs and rumors

07.13.09 at 4:09 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — Indians catcher Victor Martinez can summarize his experience with the knuckleball quite simply.

“Never (caught a knuckleball) in my life,” he said. “Never.”

That said, he would not shy from being the man behind the plate should 42-year-old Tim Wakefield get his first opportunity to pitch in an All-Star game.

“It will be fun. This game is all about fun. I’ve never caught a knuckleball before, so it will be interesting,” said Martinez. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Martinez is back in the All-Star game on the strength of a bounce-back season in 2009. He averaged 21 homers from 2004-07, hitting .302 with a .376 OBP and .860 OPS to establish himself as one of the top offensive catchers in the majors. In 2008, however, his performance plummeted. He went deep just two times, hitting .278 with a .337 OBP and .701 OPS while dealing with “loose bodies” in his right elbow that ultimately required arthroscopic surgery in the middle of last year.

This spring, Martinez arrived to spring training with the Indians healthy. His power has returned, as he is hitting .294 with 14 homers, a .374 OBP and .859 OPS.

“When I got to spring training, I knew I was healthy. That was a big difference between this year and last year,” said Martinez. “It makes me feel pretty good. All the trouble that I went through last year, it’s a big difference when you’re playing healthy…It was the first time for me in my career, having a lot of pain and stuff in my body. I went and got my elbow surgery, and then finally this year, I came back healthy. It’s a big difference when you play healthy.”

While that has earned Martinez his third All-Star spot, it has not been enough to sustain the Indians in the standings. With the Indians in possession of a 35-54 record and in last place in the A.L. Central, Cleveland has become a hotbed of rumors.

Already, the Indians dealt Mark DeRosa, and Martinez’ name has surfaced as a potential trade target of other clubs, including the Red Sox. According to league sources, Cleveland would likely seek such an extraordinary prospect haul in exchange for Martinez that the Sox – and most clubs, for that matter – would be disinclined to try to acquire the switch-hitting catcher/first baseman, who is in currently playing in the fifth season of a five-year, $15.5 million contract that has a team option for 2010 at a very reasonable pricetag of $7 million.

Martinez suggests that he is able to ignore the rumor mill and to focus on what he does on the field.

“You’ve got enough to worry about playing baseball…I think I do a pretty good job on that, keeping away from that distraction. I don’t really pay attention to that. We’ll see. Whatever happens, happens. The only thing I need to make sure of is show up to the field and play hard every day,” said Martinez. “I would like to stay and hopefully retire as an Indian.”

Martinez insists that he will do whatever it takes to win, whether with the Indians or, presumably, elsewhere. He will catch, play first, D.H., so long as it leaves his team positioned to succeed.

“I’m all about winning. I just want to win. As soon as I cross those lines, I want to win. Whatever my team needs to win, I’ll be there,” said Martinez.

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