Dodgers’ Russell Martin out with strained groin


Russell Martin acted as if nothing was wrong as he walked into the Dodgers’ clubhouse Sunday morning, saying the MRI exam he underwent the previous day showed that he had nothing more than “a little strain” in his right groin.

Well, it turned out that the “little strain” is significant enough that Martin is expected to miss opening day, as Manager Joe Torre announced later in the day that the catcher will probably be sidelined for the next four to six weeks.

The Dodgers will open their season on April 5 in Pittsburgh.

Their projected starting catcher for that game: 28-year-old A.J. Ellis, who has spent the majority of the last two years in Triple A.

But trainer Stan Conte said that the four-to-six-week window is “highly unscientific” and Martin made clear in a second round of interviews with reporters that he is taking that to mean he could be back in time for the first game of the season.

“That’s my goal,” Martin said. “I’m not planning on missing the first game of the season.”

Hence, the strain was “little.”

Of course, Conte also warned that Martin could take longer than six weeks to recover.

Martin has caught an average of 144 games a year over the last three seasons, playing through various bruises and strains. That mental resiliency, which made him a two-time All-Star and clubhouse leader, could be the greatest obstacle in his recovery.

“Russ is a guy who wants to play through injuries, play through pain,” Conte said. “That’s worked for him in the past. It won’t work with him with this particular injury.”

In addition to treating Martin, Conte said, the medical staff will work on educating him on why it’s vital for him not to immediately jump back on the field the moment he feels as if he’s ready to do so.

Stained muscles in that part of the body could be deceitful, Conte warned. Sometimes they feel healed when they’re really not. Return too soon and you risk it staying with you for the entire season.

“These could be very devastating injuries,” Conte said.

Martin said he’ll try to listen to the training staff.

“It’s going to be extremely tough on me,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. I just know myself. As soon as I feel good, I want to jump out there and go and have fun.”

And for the Dodgers, that will mean handing a bulk of catching duties to the light-hitting Ellis, as backup catcher Brad Ausmus is 41 years old and unlikely to be able to handle squatting behind the plate for nine innings every day.

“I have no hesitation with this at all,” Torre said of starting Ellis, pointing to his game-calling abilities.

Ellis, who backed up Martin as far back as in 2004 with Class A Vero Beach, said he felt bad for the man he was replacing.

“I feel awful for him,” Ellis said.

Martin said he first felt something in his groin during a baserunning drill last week, but didn’t think anything of it. The discomfort grew worse when he stole second base in the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener on Friday.

Martin underwent an MRI examination on Saturday and was examined by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache that night.

Martin said he was surprised to learn how long he would be out.

“I was a little bit shocked because it’s not an injury that has a lot of pain to it,” he said. “It’s just something that nags you.”

Conte said Martin’s injury was nothing like that of former Dodger prospect Tony Abreu, whose road to the majors was blocked by a series of problems in the same part of his body. Whereas Martin has only a strained adductor muscle, Abreu had far more extensive damage.

“We did the MRI all the way up to his abdomen and we didn’t see any indication of any swelling or any acute injury anywhere else,” Conte said.

Conte and Martin both said they didn’t think that the extra weight that Martin added over the winter was a factor in him getting hurt.

In fact, Martin said he planned to use his newly created free time to spend more time in the weight room.

“I’m going to get as strong as I possibly can and take advantage of the fact that guys will be out on the field and I can spend time in the weight room and get strong,” he said. “I’m going to try to use it in a positive way.

“I just know my guns are going to be even bigger.”

Short hops

The Dodgers’ game against the Cubs in Mesa was rained out . . . Clayton Kershaw, who was scheduled to start Sunday, will pitch Monday in relief of Chad Billingsley.