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Pedro gets work in at simulated 'event'

Pedro gets work in at simulated 'event'

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For decades, the term a "Spring Training event" constituted an oxymoron. Darryl Strawberry facing Dwight Gooden in batting practice might have been one. Reggie Jackson's first day in pinstripes, Derek Jeter's donning armor to face Roger Clemens or Garth Brooks swinging, singing and signing all might have qualified, too. Or not. The tone of Spring Training is different now; witness Johan Santana's first start and the home run Juan Gonzalez hit off him.

If the Mets had some able-body players, there might have been a few more before Friday morning when Camp Triage temporarily suspended operations so that all who had gathered could gaze upon Pedro Martinez throwing a simulated game.

No fielders, no runners, no score; just Martinez vs. Damion Easley, Endy Chavez and two "happy-to-be-part-of-it" Minor Leaguers. Clearly, the circumstances didn't make for distinction and news. The guy on the mound was center of this Friday universe.

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The only result that mattered was that Martinez pitched the equivalent of two innings and walked off the mound on the artificial field with a genuine smile and, seemingly, not a care.

"As far as my health and making my pitches," Martinez said, "I'm right there ... right there."

Right there is where he had hoped to be. Everything had gone as well as it could -- given the time, 10 a.m. ET, and that Martinez had endured a two-hour round trip Thursday night for a game against the Nationals that was canceled because of rain.

Chavez seemed to "be on" Martinez's pitches, even though the pitches weren't identified in advance. But what did that matter? It was another procedural step for Martinez.

Indeed, Chavez thought Martinez's velocity was better than it was after his return in September.

"I wasn't as comfortable as last time out," Martinez said.

He said he was "sluggish," and he attributed that to the hour and Thursday's trek. And he assessed his curveball as "so-so." But he got his day's work in. And that made it as important as it would be for any other starter. The fact that it was Martinez made it an event.

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As usual, manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson remained at the Mets' complex well after the team's bus departure to watch. They would leave much later for Winter Haven and a game against the Indians. Oliver Perez would start against Cleveland, but the Mets' staff preferred to have its eyes on Martinez. The importance of Martinez can't be simulated.

But on this morning, owner Fred Wilpon brought four friends. He stood directly behind the batting cage and even served as the plate umpire late in Martinez's second inning. David Wright sprawled in the grass near the cage and watched while chatting with Easley. At times, Duaner Sanchez, Brian Schneider, Carlos Delgado, Joe Smith, Scott Schoenewies, Mike Pelfrey, Aaron Heilman and, finally, Santana were spectators.

And a dozen more Mets formed a shoulder-to-shoulder line in right field and watched Martinez pitch.

It was nothing less than an event. And another one will happen Tuesday, when his day to pitch comes around again. Again it will be in simulated-game conditions. The Mets are to play the Red Sox in Fort Myers -- three hours away -- and as Martinez noted after the cancellation Thursday, no one should expect to see him in road grays again, not when it's a six-hour roundtrip. "I doubt it," he said before he left the field Friday morning.

By that point, he knew the club already had planned an alternative to Fort Myers for him -- even though Randolph and Peterson declined to divulge any plans after they arrived in Winter Haven.

Martinez had pitched in the morning rather than later so his body could get as much rest as possible before Tuesday and so he could remain on schedule despite the rainout. He remains on schedule, but that schedule has him not facing opposing batters until Sunday, March 16. That would leave him two more exhibition game starts before the beginning of the regular season -- not a lot for a pitcher who said Friday, "I tried to approach it as close to a game as possible," and who indicated he prefers to pitch in more realistic conditions "so I can see if a hit is a hit or if I have to cover first base on a ground ball."

The matter of becoming familiar with new catcher Brian Schneider -- he caught Martinez on Friday -- and refamiliarizing himself with other normal game circumstances (real umpires, holding actual runners, pickoffs, rundowns, et al) are component in this "work in progress." But the events of the day sometimes make normalcy impossible.

Marty Noble 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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