Russell Martin not ready to catch

Updated: February 23, 2011, 5:47 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees signed Russell Martin to be their everyday catcher, but he won't be behind the plate when they open their exhibition season Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I don't think he's quite ready to go and I'm not going to rush him,'' manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. "He still talks about [his knee] doesn't quite feel the same as it did before. I told him, I want to know when you're 100 percent. Because I don't want any setbacks with him. When I put him in, I want him to be ready to go.''

The 28-year-old Martin passed a physical before signing a one-year, $4 million contract in December to replace Jorge Posada behind the plate. But within a matter of days, it was announced he would undergo surgery to repair "a small meniscus tear'' in his right knee, the same surgery both Posada and CC Sabathia underwent in the offseason.

At the time, general manager Brian Cashman said, "It's not a serious surgery at all,'' that Martin's recovery would take two to three weeks and that the catcher would be "back to normal within a month.''

But now, nine weeks after the surgery, Martin is still feeling discomfort. Worse, on Wednesday, he added three ominous letters to the mix: MCL, as in medial collateral ligament.

"I injured my MCL in the offseason,'' Martin said. "But the surgery wasn't for the MCL, it was for the meniscus. When they looked at my knee they saw that I had a meniscus issue as well, so in the time it would take for the MCL to heal, the surgery would heal, so they might as well do it. It was just a prevention type thing.''

Whatever the real extent of the injury, it has so far prevented Martin from participating in the full range of catching drills -- he has not taken part in blocking drills yet -- and will keep him out of the first spring training game at least.

Coupled with the injuries that marred his 2010 season with the Dodgers -- Martin tore his right hip labrum on a slide last August -- it raises the possibility that Posada -- penciled in as the full-time designated hitter for this year -- may still have use for his catching gear after all.

Girardi refused to say who would catch on Saturday -- Francisco Cervelli, last year's backup, and rookie Jesus Montero are the likely choices -- but Posada put the gear on for the first time Wednesday and is scheduled to catch his first bullpen of the spring on Thursday.

"We're just keeping Jorge's catching skills sharp,'' Girardi said.

Girardi said he was not sure when Martin would be well enough to catch in a game.

"I hope it's just three or four days, but if it takes more, it takes more,'' he said.

Perhaps due to the injuries, Martin had the worst season of his career in 2010, batting just .248 with five homers and 26 RBIs in 97 games. Earlier this week, Girardi said he expected Martin to catch between 110 and 125 games this season.

"It's still a little bit stiff, it's not 100 percent yet,'' Martin said. "But how it felt the first day compared to now the progression has been really good. This is more a conservative-type thing, to make sure I will be ready. Instead of getting started too early and having a setback and missing the early part of the season, which I do not want to do. I want to be out there from Day 1.''

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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