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Pedro makes progress in third start

Pedro makes progress in third start

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson was here to see Pedro Martinez pitch Monday night. So was Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, a longtime Martinez friend. Then Martinez's brother, Ramon, and his cousin, Angel Jaime, also showed up.

Being surrounded by familiar faces seemed to do wonders for Martinez. He took his biggest step toward a return to the Mets, holding the Brevard County Manatees to two unearned runs and two hits in five innings for the Class A St. Lucie Mets.

Martinez walked one and struck out four as his fastball topped out at 89 mph, an improvement from his last outing six days ago.

He allowed just two runners over the first four innings -- a hit and a walk. The fifth inning became troublesome only when the St. Lucie shortstop made two errors.

He threw 72 pitches, 52 of them for strikes, and would have stayed in the game longer except for a stiff neck from sleeping awkwardly.

Martinez, recovering from rotator cuff surgery last Oct. 5, hinted that he will stay in the Minors for a while longer. He said he is dissatisfied with his cut fastball and changeup -- two pitches he likes to use liberally, and plans to intensify his work on them.

He was nearly giddy about his sinker and curveball. He used them often to get ahead in the count against the young Manatees, a Brewers affiliate.

"I can't recall throwing one bad curveball," he said. "I was looking for it to do what it did. And I got ground balls when I wanted with my sinker. I had command of my pitches."

Seeing familiar faces from New York clearly gave Martinez a lift.

"Any good advice I can get from veteran people like that is great for me," he said. "Makes me really want to get back to New York."

Peterson delivered a hello from Mets pitcher Tom Glavine. Martinez thought of the many occasions when he and Glavine would sit in the dugout and discuss what pitches a pitcher would be using against certain batters.

"We feed off each other," Martinez said. "Also, when somebody starts a rally, like Jose Reyes, it gets contagious. I miss that atmosphere. In fact I miss the fans, I miss being on a big league field. I wish I was there, but I want to be ready when I get there."

Peterson said he had not seen Martinez since the Mets broke camp from Spring Training and Martinez was left behind to rejuvenate his pitching arm.

"We're here to celebrate this process of Pedro taking steps closer to where he wants to be, as far as helping the Mets," said Peterson. "This clearly demonstrates how special this process is -- it's all about supporting Pedro."

Peterson has been watching video of every Martinez outing, but he said one can't get a real feel for the game that way.

"It's like watching NASCAR on TV," he said. "It's not the same as sitting in a seat as you go around the track. Today, it was great to take a ride around the track with him. I saw him warm up; I sat next to him in the dugout. I saw how he felt. I think he's ready to take another step forward."

Peterson emphasized that results still are unimportant for Martinez, as he seeks to fine-tune his pitches and his location. He said when it's relatively early in the process, people sometimes can jump to the wrong conclusion when a pitcher gets hit hard.

"It's like when Roger Clemens faced his first batter," Peterson said, smiling slightly. "He gave up a home run to the first batter and the media in New York said that he was done."

The implication is that Martinez's previous travails here -- giving up five runs in one outing and three in another -- won't mean a thing once he begins facing Major League hitters again.

"The process is the main thing," Peterson said. "When you concentrate on that, as Pedro has done, then you will begin to see improvement. And he's definitely improving."

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