Pedro vows to return even stronger

Arm feeling great, Pedro vows to return strong

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The exile of Pedro Martinez is essentially self-imposed. He has opted to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right shoulder in the relative solitude of the Mets' Minor League complex here, away from teammates, crowds inside and outside the clubhouse, any discussion of when he will pitch again and quite far away from his first pitch of the 2007 big-league season.

The teammates, he says, he misses. Martinez can do without the rest. Projections of his return are not his to make nor to try to meet. They are the domain of the doctors who repaired him and restored some sense of anticipation to his name. His responsibilities are to heal and not hurry.

Martinez emerged from his almost isolation and slipped into his home whites for a photo shoot on Friday. He did so on the big-league side of the sprawling complex. And after his second visit with his would-be colleagues -- this one decidedly longer than the first last week -- he provided insights into his status some 4 1/2 months after the scalpel of Dr. David Altchek invaded his shoulder to repair the rotator cuff.

"My arm is doing great," he said. "I should be back by the predicted time [after the All-Star break, but closer to Aug. 1]. ... I have to be realistic, be patient, do what I have to do. I'm going to be patient, I'm working my butt off."

That, even though some people believe he wants to beat the projected schedule. A person familiar with Martinez's winter workouts in the Dominican Republic said last week that others in his homeland who know him have never seen him so determined.

That person quoted Martinez's brother, Ramon, the former Dodgers pitcher, as saying, "He wants to be back and he wants to be No. 1 again."

Toward that objective, the Mets' erstwhile No. 1 starter said on Friday: "I expect to be better, according to what the doctors say. The doctors said that the way they did everything in my shoulder, I should come back stronger. If I do the rehab the way I should, it should be something that lasts longer and better."

Martinez, 35, says he has made progress, in terms of strength and flexibility, since he arrived at the Mets' camp two weeks ago.

He said the improvement is the result of his regimen.

"The amount of work I'm doing takes a lot of time and thinking," he said. "It's every day, three, four hours, nonstop. Have a drink, come right back.

"No time for fun, no time for jokes, all hard work.

"It is a little tougher, because sometimes when I'm in there, I open the door and I get to see them hit, execute plays and stuff like that. Those are things that I miss. I miss stuff like that -- actually feeling part of what's cooking here."

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Martinez believes another Mets World Series championship is in the broth.

"I think this team is going to do a special thing if we stay healthy," he said. "Health is going to be the key. If we stay healthy, I think we could be able to do anything, including winning. I believe this team can win it, and I hope I get back on time to push them."

Not that Mets are incapable without him. He won his first five starts last season, but his record thereafter was 3-8. The Mets won merely 11 of his 23 starts overall. Indeed, their winning percentage in his 54 starts in two seasons is .519. Their percentage in the other 270 games is .563.

But, of course, they expect him to be a greater force in the postseason.

And the prospects of pitching again in the postseason, as much as any other factor, is why Martinez wants back in. It's part of why he deals with the pain, the long hours and the solitude.

The other part, he said, is "because I'm a disciplined player. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right. I still feel like I can do it, like I can help this team get over the hump. If I can't, if I'm not able to do it, believe me, I'll hang them [up]. I'll hang my cleats before anybody has to tell me to."

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