Martinez is Least of Mets’ Worries There are no shortage of problems for the Mets, from Ryan Church’s concussive complications, to Moises Alou’s inability to heal, and even Billy Wagner’s ability to save his only poor performances for the worst possible moments, as he did Sunday, giving up a home run to Tony Clark as the Mets lost their fourth straight to the San Diego Padres, 8-6.
But likely to be lost within the avalanche of deservedly negative was the performance of Pedro Martinez, who provided every indication that whatever the state of the inconsistent Met offense, he’s going to be able to keep his team in the game for as along as he’s around.
His velocity and location was improved Sunday, and his movement just as good, as his five starts last season, when he posted a 3-1 record, 2.57 ERA, and 32 strikeouts against just seven walks in 28 innings, despite usually topping out at 87 miles per hour on his fastball. Sunday, in his second start after missing two months due to a hamstring strain, Martinez did not walk a batter, struck out four, and reached 92 miles per hour with his fastball.
Martinez started slowly against the Padres, but even amid the rust, his skills came through. His first two fastballs came in at 86 and 85 MPH against Jody Gerut, though the 1-1 heater reached 88. One pitch later, a perfectly placed changeup which moved both away and down had Gerut missing, and Martinez had his first strikeout.
He relied heavily on his fastball against Edgar Gonzalez, running a full count before trying to finish him off with a pair of fastballs in. Gonzalez barely stayed alive on the first one, which reached 90 MPH, then pulled the second into left field. The pitch was well-placed, but Gonzalez guessed right. Then Brian Giles lined a single into right field on a fastball that got too much plate, and Adrian Gonzalez followed with a single on a changeup that found the corner.
Against Kevin Kouzmanoff, Martinez began to find his pitching groove. He started him with a curve at 76 for strike one. A fastball at 91 just missed. A second 91-MPH fastball had Kouzmanoff missing badly. After barely getting a piece of another fastball, a rising Martinez fastball at 92 hit Kouzmanoff. But while this wasn’t the result Martinez wanted, the fact that Martinez can pitch up and in is a definite step forward over last season, which saw Martinez seemingly reluctant to go up and in with his lesser fastball.
Martinez balked in a run — only his second balk in three years. He then got ahead of Paul McAnulty 1-2 before the overmatched hitter dumped a pitch into left field.
The next four innings, Martinez saw his results line up with his performance. In the second inning, he jumped ahead of Luke Carlin 0-2, and two pitches later, dispatched him looking on a fastball that painted the outside corner. He struck out the pitcher, and got to 2-2 on Jody Gerut. A little rust showed—he froze Gerut with the curveball, but the pitch missed wide. On 3-2, Gerut singled. But he struck out Edgar Gonzalez, overwhelming him with the fastball.
Over Martinez’s final three innings, he managed to throw first-pitch strikes with his curveball, his fastball and his changeup. Against Edgar Gonzalez in the fourth, he threw a vintage curveball with more movement than nearly any he’d tossed last season. The Padres scattered a total of 10 hits over the five innings, but very few pitches were hit hard.
And even when San Diego hitters guessed right, the way Brian Giles did on an 0-1 changeup with two out and two on in the fourth, Martinez put the ball on the corner, making Giles hit a fly out to right field, rather than a three-run homer. By his final inning, Martinez got ahead of the first hitter with his fastball, the second hitter with his changeup, the third hitter with his curveball, and the fourth with his fastball. He left after five innings with the lead.
Martinez allowed four runs in five innings. But he threw 63 of his 97 pitches for strikes, and displayed command of his changeup, curveball, and fastball with improved velocity. With that repertoire in place, it is reasonable to expect that success will follow.