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After two tough years, Maine feels great

After two tough years, Maine feels great

NEW YORK -- It has been, let the record show, nearly two years since John Maine last felt normal. Even for the snakebitten Mets, that is worth noting.

Now, though, Maine does feel normal. Great, even. Since beginning his offseason workouts in Virginia last month, Maine has not felt like a man who pitched only 81 1/3 innings last season due to injury, nor a man who has not yet returned to form after right shoulder surgery an offseason ago.

He's just a pitcher, the No. 3 starter for the Mets as it stands, trying to rebound from one of the most disappointing years of his life -- not to mention one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

"I guess it's a big 'what if,'" Maine said this week. "You never could get a read on how we would have done if we were all there through six months. I think the main thing is just getting healthy, because we were in first place for the first couple of months when we had healthy guys, and then it just started piling up. Getting healthy and getting back to the way we were playing the last few years, I think we'll be all right."

A healthy John Maine is hard to remember. But there he was in 2007, going 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA and generating thoughts that he may not yet have hit his ceiling.

At a team charity function earlier this week, one child asked a group of Mets about their favorite memory in baseball. Maine said that his was participating in the '06 playoffs, and David Wright chimed in to remind everyone that Maine was the team's No. 1 starter heading into that postseason.

That was not so long ago.

After his breakthrough '07 season, Maine entered '08 as the club's No. 3 starter, with a snappy fastball and a load of expectations. After a successful first half of the season, a bone spur in his right shoulder grinded that progress to a halt. After the season, doctors removed the spur and expressed wonder at how large it had grown.

Entering '09 as an injury risk, Maine remained one throughout the year, spending more time on the disabled list with a series of shoulder issues. His injuries, somewhat expected amidst a sea of unexpected ones, went largely unnoticed and unaddressed. But now, with four weeks remaining before the dawn of Spring Training and the Mets sporting the same front four that they did at this time last year, Maine has reemerged as a central figure.

"Last year was just unfortunate," Maine said. "Hopefully, it was an oddity. I feel fine. I've never been hurt other than what's happened recently. I'm just doing what I do normally [and] a little more rehab. I feel fine."

And so Maine, like he did last year and the year before and the year before that, will enter '10 as the No. 3 starter in Flushing -- this time settling in behind Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. He will be healthy, he says -- among other things.

"I'll be ready," Maine said. "That's the bottom line."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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