GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Leonys Martin turned and sprinted toward the gap in left-center field to snare Nick Madrigal’s drive. He ripped a breaking ball over the wall in right-center for a home run, and returned a fervent embrace from a former teammate.
All in a day’s work on Tuesday.
All in Martin’s new life with the Cleveland Indians.
Just six games after arriving from Detroit in a July 31 trade, Martin’s career came to a crashing halt. He was stricken with a life-threatening infection that entered his blood stream and damaged his organs. He feared that he would never see his wife, Yaimira, or their three children again. Fortunately, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic reversed the infection and Martin was released on Aug. 19, following a 12-day hospital stay in which he lost 45 pounds.
Now, after an extensive training program in Florida, which included lunges, leg lifts, agility ladders, sprints and core strength training, Martin is back in peak physical health. Extensive hitting, throwing and fielding restored his baseball readiness.
“I take time to recover and get myself ready for spring training, making sure I am ready from day one, so that is exactly what I did,” Martin said after hitting a two-run homer in Cleveland’s 11-0 win over the White Sox.
“It was a long way to get here, a long way to get where I want to be, it took a lot of months. I took it with baby steps; one step at a time, but thank God I am able to do what I love and happy to be back in baseball,” he said.
Martin, who turns 31 on Wednesday, wore an ear-to-ear grin all the way around the bases after homering off left-hander Bernardo Flores Jr. It was his second home run during Cactus League play, improving his spring average to .500 (8 of 16) with a .875 slugging percentage.
“He swung the bat really well. He’s swung well against lefties and righties,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The more lefties he sees the better, keeps your mechanics.”
Martin’s performance is not surprising, according to Francona, because he and his staff kept close tabs on his offseason progress. His strength, however, has been eye-opening.
“I think we were, if not surprised, pleased, that his strength was back,” Francona said. “But he got back pretty quick. It was kind of amazing how quickly he got back.”
The Indians are counting on Martin to help stabilize their outfield following the departures of All-Star Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall.
Martin, a full-time major leaguer since 2013, flashed home run power in 2016 with 15 in his last season with the Texas Rangers, who signed him in 2011 after he defected from his native Cuba. Last season, he hit nine home runs for the Tigers and two in the six games he played for Cleveland before becoming ill on Aug. 7.
With a childlike enthusiasm, Martin is eager for the April 1 home opener to play in front of the Cleveland fans who rooted for him throughout his hospitalization and recovery.
“Something I will never forget is the support,” he said. “Cleveland fans were awesome. For me, it is awesome that they see that I am ready. And I can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Martin, who also played for the Mariners and the Cubs, is thrilled to be with a squad that has won the AL Central the past three seasons and has a legitimate shot at making the World Series.
“It is an opportunity to be with a team that is going to have the chance to be in the playoffs,” he said. “And that’s the goal for every player, to be in the playoffs. And that’s what I want to do; to help this team be back in the playoffs.”
Martin, who was embraced by Chicago first baseman Yonder Alonso, a fellow Cuban who played with Cleveland last year, said he wants to move on and limit discussions about his illness.
“Whatever happened in the past, I don’t want to talk about any more. So now it is time to play baseball and move forward,” he said.
As a fleet defensive player with an accurate arm, he is tied for fourth among center fielders in defensive runs saved since 2012. In his view, it is all about effort.
“I just want to go out there and do my best to help the team, to play hard every single day,” he said.
Outfielder Tyler Naquin, who has worked throughout spring training with Martin to develop their communication, is impressed with how far his teammate has progressed.
“His hard work is showing,” Naquin said. “It was scary, but Leonys is a strong dude. He worked hard to put himself back where he is now. It is a blessing to see it.”
NOTES: All-Star SS Francisco Lindor continues to make progress in his recovery from a right calf strain. Francona said Lindor has been taking grounders, hitting in the cage and “every day he adds to it, the intensity and the amount of stuff he does.”