LAKELAND, Fla. -- On Wednesday, Bryan Holaday became like a military pilot making his initial flight in the top jet in the fleet.
For the first time in a game, Holaday caught Justin Verlander.
"I don't know how else to put it: He's nasty," Holaday said after the Tigers' 4-1 victory over Toronto. "He's really good. It's a lot of fun to catch him."
Holaday caught all four innings Verlander pitched. Verlander blanked the visiting Blue Jays on one hit -- a double to the opposite-field gap by Adam Lind. He was one of the few established major league hitters in the lineup.
Holaday, 25, figures to open the season as the Triple-A Toledo catcher. He likely would get called up if anything happened to either Alex Avila or Brayan Pena. So manager Jim Leyland wanted Holaday to familiarize himself with Verlander before they do any work together in the regular season.
Many years ago, Victor Martinez was what Holaday is now. He was a young catcher getting to work with major league pitchers for the first time.
Now 34, Martinez has one goal: Be healthy enough to hit.
On Wednesday, he returned to the lineup at DH after a four-day lay-off instituted so he doesn't overdo things in his return from his knee injury.
Then, Martinez batted only once Wednesday, drawing a first-inning walk against right-hander Brandon Morrow. His second plate appearance would have come against left-hander Brett Cecil. In a move that looked strange, the left-handed swinging Avila batted for the switch-hitting Martinez against a southpaw.
"I didn't take the second at-bat off the lefty because I've been a little sore in my back and it's a little uncomfortable to swing on the right side," Martinez said. "It's just a couple of days.
"I've been out there every day swinging, swinging, swinging," he said of his practice routine. "It's nothing to worry about. I guess you can call it maintenance."
Martinez said he expected to play tonight against Braves right-handed starter Julio Teheran. Leyland confirmed that he would.
Martinez missed last season with torn cartilage in his left knee. He returns to a Central Division that figures to be a lot tougher than last year, when three of its teams lost at least 90 games.
Verlander referred to two of those 90-game losers, Kansas City and Cleveland, when he said Wednesday: "Those two teams got better." The Royals added James Shields to be their ace; the Indians acquired several hitters for new manager Terry Francona.
After he complimented the Royals and Indians, Verlander said: "We got better, too."
To illustrate that point, Torii Hunter hit his first Tigers homer Wednesday.
But the big hit in the win was Holaday's two-run double. So the young catcher had quite a day.
"He did a great job," Verlander said. "The main thing is how to set guys up, learning tendencies. For the most part, we were in sync. On a few occasions, we weren't. It happens with anybody."
Holaday didn't know until he saw the lineup card Wednesday morning that he would get to catch Verlander. He had caught Verlander in bullpen sessions, but now it was game time.
Holaday said before the game: "I think it's going to be a lot of fun."
After the fun ended, Holaday was asked to explain what he meant when he said Verlander was "nasty."
"The ball just explodes out of his hand," Holaday said. "His fastball his breaking ball was unbelievable today. His command, and the life in his arm, is awesome."
It was only an exhibition game. But how many catchers get to catch Justin Verlander?
"It's definitely something I'm going to remember," Holaday said. "Not many times do you get to catch a guy like that."
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