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Baseball notes

He says he's pitcher of health

Martinez determined to turn around season

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 6, 2008

The brain cancer his 78-year-old father, Pablo, is fighting and required hospitalization for Thursday night in the Dominican Republic is weighing on his mind, but Pedro Martínez will never use that as an excuse for his poor pitching for the New York Mets.

"It's tough, sure," said Martínez of his father's illness. "But, no, it has nothing to do with the way I'm pitching. If I were pitching well, I think things would be a lot more decent here. I haven't gotten on a roll, and when that happens, I think that's going to flip things around. I have to be a big part of it. Behind Johan [Santana], I'm the other veteran pitcher that's got to step up. I'm looking forward to that."

The former Red Sox ace says he's healthy, and if the Mets are to turn their horror show of a first half into a prosperous second half, Martínez is aware he must be a huge part of it.

Yet the way he's pitching - 17 runs, 22 hits, 7 walks over his last 15 innings - is frustrating and alarming because there's the chance that Martínez, with 211 wins, 95 losses, and a career 2.86 ERA, might be on the decline.

"I want to go through the adversity first and go out my own way, not when things are going rough," he said Friday as he got dressed for the opener of the Mets' three-game series against Philadelphia. "I'm hoping to turn it around. If I don't, I'll need to take myself out of the game."

Martínez was his usual accommodating and occasionally combative self in a wide-ranging interview. He underwent rotator cuff surgery late in 2006, and came back strong the last month of 2007, only to be sidelined by a hamstring injury April 1 and not return until June 3.

"I've just got to get more pitching time," he said. "There are times at the top of your career, you have those stretches where you struggle. But if you're healthy, keep pitching. Go through the struggles. There's no other way."

Martínez wasn't able to explain the struggles that have his ERA at 7.39. When pressed about his lack of velocity and problems with mechanics, Martínez indicated he didn't want to dwell on anything negative and didn't care for the line of questioning.

"It's obvious I feel healthy," he said. "It hasn't been an issue. It's just been a struggle. I am frustrated, and believe me, this isn't the way I want it to go right now. There's nothing I can do right now. I'm trying. I'm just going to have to try and do it in a different way.

"I really don't want to go over the negative things right now. I am frustrated because this is the first time I've ever gone through something like this. My true character is going to come out when I come out of this, if I come out of it. If I don't come out of it, I guess I was done and all of you were right."

Martínez wants to pitch after this season, the final year of a four-year, $54 million contract he signed when he left Boston. The way the Mets are going, it might not be in New York.

"Yeah, I still want to pitch," he said. "If I'm healthy, I want to pitch and have fun again. I always said I want to pitch until I'm 40."

When pressed on pitching a long time, he said, half-kidding, "I think you guys want me out of baseball. I think you do. I guess you guys want to hear big news from me. I'm only 36 years old. Thirty-six. Right now, I'm healthy. I worked my ass off to get healthy. I feel I should get paid for all that work. Not in money, but I'm talking about results. Once I leave the game and that little breed of pitchers that have come out in the last 15 years goes away, you guys are going to miss us. Our breed is done. From 1970 on, you're not going to see a breed like that again."

Martínez said of former teammate Curt Schilling, who recently had shoulder surgery, "Yes, I heard about Curt. Curt is a little bit older. I don't know what it's going to be for Schill, but I hope it goes well. If he has the will, he'll come back. Looks like [John Smoltz] is going to try to come back and he's [nearly as old as] Schill. There are a whole bunch of guys who are a lot older than me and I probably get the question more than anybody."

Martínez on Roger Clemens: "All of those things that came out about Roger make things more interesting for guys like me and [Tom] Glavine. Why was I always injured? Why was I always a prima donna? Well, because this [pointing to his arm] is what you saw. This was all me."

Despite his uncertain future, Martínez painted a rosier picture than most in the Mets' clubhouse.

"I think this team can make a turnaround," he said. "We're a little bit inconsistent right now. A lot of distractions have gone away. The clubhouse is fixed. It's just a matter of playing more consistent. Everything is great in here. "

Asked about reports of the team having poor chemistry, Martínez said, "There was no problem with the chemistry. It was just frustration from not winning. Right now, we're playing slightly better. Not much better, but right now the atmosphere in here is perfect."

Coaches have Reinsdorf 's vote

A few questions for White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf (Reinsdorf and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa are advocates for coaches getting into the Hall of Fame).

Do you know how it would work? By Veterans Committee vote?

JR: "I don't think we're talking about coaches being in the Hall of Fame in the same way as players. It's more like how the writers and broadcasters are in. I believe coaches should be in the Hall of Fame, just like managers and players. I don't think that's a political possibility. It just strikes me that if we honor broadcasters and we honor writers, that coaches should be entitled to the same degree of honor."

The Veterans Committee votes on contributors to the game. Should coaches be in that category?

JR: "I think the Veterans Committee votes on players that are passed on by the writers. There are a couple of special committees that vote on the other categories - executives, writers, and broadcasters. I would suggest there would be some type of special committee, which should be set up to consider coaches and should have the same status as writers and broadcasters."

Have you talked to the Hall of Fame about this?

JR: "I've talked to some members of the board of trustees. I've expressed my opinion. A number of them said it's worth discussing. And it ought to be discussed because maybe there are reasons not to do it. At least I would like to see it discussed."

Are there coaches you've come across in your many years in baseball that you feel should be in the Hall?

JR: "Oh, sure. Charlie Lau, Dave Duncan, Cal Ripken Sr. Just a few that ought to be considered. I'm not presumptuous enough to say who. That would be up to some type of selection committee. Those are just three names that I can think of at the top of my head. There are a lot of others, too."

Charlie Lau was such a unique coach with his style of hitting. Has your relationship with him sparked this interest in honoring coaches?

JR: "Here we are 24 years after Charlie's death and his hitting theories are still valid. Walt [Hriniak] is another candidate that should be considered. Wade Boggs told me that if it weren't for Walter, he never would have won a batting title."

Do you bring up this topic a lot?

JR: "I just bring it up in discussions. I haven't crusaded for it. I was told that it's something they would consider at some point, but I don't press for it. That's not my nature."

At this time of the season,
it’s impossible not to see stars

One man's All-Star teams:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

1B - Justin Morneau over Kevin Youkilis.

2B - Dustin Pedroia edges Ian Kinsler, who is having an excellent offensive year but whose 16 errors can't be ignored.

3B - Who else? Alex Rodriguez. Mike Lowell, Evan Longoria, and Joe Crede could all back up.

SS - Michael Young leads a not-so-great pool. Derek Jeter right behind him.

C - Joe Mauer, great hitter, defense improving. Kurt Suzuki, A.J. Pierzynski, and Ivan Rodriguez deserve mention.

OF - Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, and Ichiro Suzuki would start. Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, J.D. Drew, and Johnny Damon are having excellent years.

DH - Milton Bradley.

Starting pitchers - Cliff Lee, Justin Duchscherer, Joe Saunders, Roy Halladay.

Relief pitchers - Francisco Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1B - Lance Berkman, with Albert Pujols on the team.

2B - Chase Utley, with Dan Uggla's 23 homers in reserve.

3B - Chipper Jones. David Wright and Garrett Atkins are having good seasons.

SS - Hanley Ramírez (20 homers, 21 steals, .925 OPS). Jose Reyes in reserve.

C - Russell Martin edges Brian McCann. Geovany Soto and Bengie Molina are also in the debate.

OF - Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, and Pat Burrell start. Backups: Ryan Braun, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady.

DH - Pujols. Backup: Carlos Lee.

Starting pitchers - Tim Lincecum, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren.

Relief pitchers - Brian Wilson, Brad Lidge.

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Is it out of the realm of possibility that Matt Holliday winds up with Boston and the Red Sox don't pick up Manny Ramírez's $20 million option? Both players are represented by Scott Boras; 2. I remember Ron Mahay as a replacement outfielder for the Red Sox. Now, he'd be a pretty good lefthander out of the bullpen. He's 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA for the Royals, who would deal him; 3. I can't wait for the next Hank Steinbrenner meltdown; 4. Ripping Richmond dining provoked a lot of e-mails, except everyone suggested the same four or five places. That's all you've got?

We'll see on C.C.
While Milwaukee seems furthest along in trade talks with the Indians for Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia, with names of prospects Matt LaPorta, Taylor Green, and Lorenzo Cain on the table, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, scouts at the Mets-Phillies series felt strongly that Tampa Bay would at least explore talks with Cleveland. While there are questions whether the Rays would fork over Johan Santana-like money to sign Sabathia long term, they certainly have the young players the Indians might covet. The Rays wouldn't part with lefthander David Price, but they do have 6-foot-9-inch righthander Jeff Niemann, who is 6-2 with a 3.76 ERA at Triple A Durham, as well as 22-year-old shortstop Reid Brignac, who could be included in any deal for a front-line pitcher. The Dodgers, Rangers, and Phillies are also interested in Sabathia.

Seasons of change
Who knows what changes could occur with the Mets if they don't make the playoffs, but one that likely won't happen is dealing shortstop Jose Reyes, while one that could is trading center fielder Carlos Beltran, who is making $18.5 million a year through 2011. Beltran has a no-trade clause, but no one would be surprised if he approved a deal to get out of New York.

Long stay or short stop?
The first thing Dodgers manager Joe Torre did when Nomar Garciaparra came off the disabled list was put him back at shortstop. Torre got word that Rafael Furcal would be lost for most of the season after back surgery, and Garciaparra was able to step back in. Torre doesn't make any promises on whether Garciaparra will play there every day or only periodically, but Torre remembers when Garciaparra competed with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for supremacy at that position. "I always felt Nomar was an excellent shortstop, but through time and injuries he got away from it," Torre said. "We'll see how he handles it."

Filling up stat sheet
Ryan Howard's 73 RBIs entering last night lead the National League. But he is hitting only .223. The player with the lowest average to lead a league in RBIs was Harmon Killebrew, who hit .243 for the 1962 Twins. He led the American League that year in home runs (48) and RBIs (126). Meanwhile, Howard's Phillies teammate, Pat Burrell, likely will make the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Burrell always has been overpaid - he's making $14 million this season in the final year of his contract - but has hit at least 20 homers in each of the last eight years, which is impressive when you consider that only Mike Schmidt (14) had more 20-plus-homer seasons for the Phillies. The Phillies will have to make a decision on Burrell when he becomes a free agent. His swing seems to fit Citizens Bank Park, where entering last night he has hit .279 with 68 homers and 234 RBIs with a .407 on-base percentage and .936 OPS.

Short hops
Tony Armas Jr., who, along with Carl Pavano, was traded to the Expos by the Red Sox for Pedro Martínez in 1997, now sits a few seats away from Martínez in the Mets' clubhouse. "We've never talked about the trade," said Martínez. "It's pretty funny to have him right there as a reminder. He's always been very respectful to me and admires me, and I help him any chance I get." . . . Catchers are hard to come by, so the Nationals are showcasing veteran Paul Lo Duca, who has lost the starting job to Jesus Flores. The Nationals are moving Lo Duca around - catcher, first base, and left field - in the hopes of finding a contending team in need of a catcher who could be used at other positions in a pinch. Lo Duca has struggled offensively all season, but has begun to pick it up . . . Reports are picking up steam that Hiroshi Yamauchi is considering selling controlling interest in the Mariners. Pat Gillick, who has said he's all done as Phillies general manager after this season, has been tied to a potential new ownership group. Gillick lives in Seattle, where he was the Mariners' longtime GM. Meanwhile, Padres owner John Moores is going through a divorce. Part of the settlement could include Becky Moores taking over controlling interest of the team. Stay tuned on those ownership issues, as well as that of the Cubs...Happy birthday Lance Clemons, who would have turned 61 today.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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