All along, it was wishful thinking to believe that injured designated hitter Victor Martinez could return to the Detroit Tigers' lineup by late July.
The news was fostered by the April announcement that Martinez would not need ACL surgery on the left knee that he injured in an offseason workout, an injury that required microfracture surgery.
And when Martinez showed up in the Tigers' clubhouse for a pair of early-season series, he came wearing a metal brace over the left knee and walking with little or no trace of a limp.
Couple that with the dreadful time Detroit was having scoring runs, and it was a bright ray of sunshine in a clubhouse full of offensive gloom to see Martinez walking around nearly normally. Why, the thinking went, in no time at all, Martinez will be able to come back and add his run-producing bat to the lineup.
But reality set in Thursday even in the midst of a positive report on the condition of his knee.
"He's doing very well there," trainer Kevin Rand said. "From a physical standpoint, from a stability standpoint, his knee looks great. But at this point in time, his single-leg strength on that side isn't where it needs to be to begin running."
Well, the reality is Martinez needs to rebuild the muscles in a leg that essentially has been inactive since the January day he underwent his surgery. He couldn't do exercises to keep up the strength in the left leg because it had undergone a relatively traumatic surgery.
So Martinez will spend the next month or so doing leg-strengthening exercises. Only then will he be allowed to begin running, which will eat up another three or four weeks before there is strength enough for the leg to bear the torque a swing at a 95 mph fastball would bring.
"Obviously, throwing-wise, we can do some things there," Rand said before the Tigers' 5-2 win over the Rays at Tampa Bay. "Hitting-wise, he's cleared to begin some doing some tee work and things along those lines. But as far as a 'return to play' standpoint, it's not until we get through that running progression and baserunning before we can even think about putting him back out on a baseball field."
Hitters go through a month of spring training to get ready for the rigors of a regular season, although much of that is the necessity of building up pitchers' arm. Hitters need maybe 50 good at-bats plus long hours in the cage to get their swings honed to where they can effectively compete against pitchers. And Martinez will be months behind where the pitchers are when he re-enters the game.
Which is why Rand said the best-case scenario for Martinez would be the middle or end of September.
Would the Tigers risk re-adjusting their roster, upsetting the status quo with maybe a week to go before the playoffs?
It seems like wishful thinking.