(Courtesy: BleacherReport.com)

By: RICKY LINDSAY, TIGERS BEAT REPORTER

The last time Victor Martinez stepped onto Comerica Park’s field in 2011, he was teammates with several former Tigers that led the team to their first ever AL Central title. The Tigers have undergone significant changes since the last time Martinez has sported the Old English D, in hopes of winning a World Series championship.

Not even a week after Martinez tore his ACL, Tigers management signed Prince Fielder to a mega-deal, bringing the hometown kid back home. This past offseason, they welcomed veteran Torii Hunter to the club with a two year deal. No longer is the burden to perform on Martinez’s shoulders alone, as he’s expected to hit behind a 2-3-4 consisting of Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Fielder.

(Courtesy: BleacherReport.com)

Martinez, a switch hitter, impressed many during his first season with the Tigers in 2011, hitting .330 with 12 home runs and 103 RBI’s. The 34-year old also provided Cabrera with significant protection in the lineup, a factor teams exploited before 2011.

He’s expected to primarily serve as designated hitter this season, and should see an increase in production now hitting behind two star sluggers in the lineup. However, Martinez won’t just provide protection to his fellow teammates, but he will be protected with the emergence of Andy Dirks.

After serving in a platoon role during his first two seasons, Dirks now has a home with the Tigers in left field. In 166 games the past two seasons combined, Dirks hit .293 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI’s.

Dirks, a left handed hitter, surprised fans with a .322 average last season in 88 games. He also showed improvement against left handed pitchers in 2012, hitting .274 in 83 plate appearances. Dirks’ ability to hit both lefties and righties helps his case for an everyday job.

The Tigers hope to get over the hump and be crowned World Series champions this season, and will need strong performances from both Martinez and Dirks, their expected fifth and sixth hitters, to make that happen.