ST. PETERSBURG -- The bone chips that cost him at least two months of the 2008 season and caused him plenty of pain before that are sitting at home. The doctor who removed the bone fragments -- a couple of which are the size of a fingernail -- from Victor Martinez's right elbow gave them to the Indians' catcher as a bizarre souvenir, of sorts. "I'm going to burn them," Martinez joked.
Martinez can't change what happened to his elbow, but he still hopes to put a positive ending on what has otherwise been a miserable 2008. And he took an important step toward that goal Wednesday morning at Tropicana Field. In taking batting practice from both sides of the plate, throwing to the bases from behind the plate and running the bases, Martinez was a ballplayer again. But he's still not a ballplayer ready for a rehab assignment. The Indians had hoped to send Martinez out this weekend, when the club travels to Toronto, yet manager Eric Wedge said Martinez will need a few more of these work days before he's ready for actual game activity. "This is almost like Spring Training for him," Wedge said. "He's still getting his legs under him. He did a lot [Wednesday], and we'll see how he feels [Thursday]." Though Martinez obviously wants to get back to the Indians as quickly as possible, he's not being pushy. He played with unbearable elbow pain for a month and doesn't want to repeat that process. Actually, Martinez said his elbow first began to bother him "two or three years ago." "It would swell up, but then it would go back down," Martinez said. He said the elbow might remain swollen for a week or two but eventually subside. This year, however, when the elbow swelled up in mid-May, it stayed that way. Martinez kept playing, his numbers kept declining, and he and the Indians finally had to pull the plug in mid-June, when the surgery was performed. Eight weeks after surgery, Martinez said his elbow finally feels free and easy. "It's been a long time since I felt like that," he said. He still has to be careful with the elbow, as evidenced by the fact that several of his throws to second on Wednesday bounced in the dirt. But he hopes to ease into maximum effort in the coming days. The Indians originally hoped to have Martinez back in the middle of August, though it's obvious after Wednesday's prognosis that he'll need a rehab that would push his return more toward the latter portion of the month. And when Martinez comes back, he'll be joining a team that has been bolstered by the play of his backup, Kelly Shoppach, who was on hand to watch all of Martinez's workout Wednesday and root his teammate on. Wedge said the Indians will have to limit Martinez's time behind the plate -- giving him starts at DH and first base -- because of the elbow. But keeping Shoppach's hot bat in the lineup has also become a necessity for this team. As for how this situation will play out in 2009, that's anybody's guess. "We haven't even thought about that," Wedge said. "That's so far away." Martinez probably felt far away from playing when he was handed those bone chips, but he felt much closer Wednesday. "I really had a good day today," he said.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.