Maine has won 15 games in a big league season, he has pitched in the postseason, he likes to say -- and he is accurate when he does -- that he routinely affords his team a chance to win when he pitches. He is a professional, one undone by his balky right shoulder the past two seasons. So why he should give a gnat's tushy when he is beaten up by a bunch of Fish on a Sunday in March?
Well, he didn't. His pitches didn't work, but his shoulder did.
"I can't believe how good it's felt for the past five days," Maine said.
Ideally, he would have pitched three innings. Instead, he pitched two-thirds of one, and he surrendered all the runs in the Mets' 5-1 defeat. But he threw 37 pitches. For him, that's two innings. So it wasn't 45. He worked. And think of how much he got to work on his pitches from the stretch.
Some of Maine's thoughts probably were rationalization. But some were born in his memories of last season, when he described the pain in his shoulder as "stabbing." Pitching poorly in a Grapefruit League game always is preferable to pitching in pain in the same circumstances. So what some my mistake for apathy isn't that at all. It's confidence in the body that has let him down in successive sumnmers.
That said, the Mets would have been pleased to witness a nine-up, nine-down performance by the 28-year-old right-hander who, in less than one month, is to serve as their No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 starter. It would be a comforting feeling for those who run the club and the team.
Almost any conversation about the Mets rotation has three certainties: First, Johan Santana is a horse and will be given the ball on April 5 when all pitchers care about their numbers. Second, the No. 5 starter will be either Jon Niese or Fernando Nieve. Next, the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 starters are uncertainties -- not in name, but it expectations.
Even with the team's offense weakened by the absence of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, manager Jerry Manuel still refers to the performances of Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez as the pivotal elements in the Mets' 2010. One position player considered it ominous that, with mid-March here, Perez has been the most consistent among the three. He exaggerated a gulp as he made that troubling assessment.
With 20 exhibition games remaining, Maine has pitched merely 2 1/3 innings in two appearances -- not even two starts. Because of the rainout Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., the Mets' rotation twice was revised, and Maine was used in relief on Sunday. Santana pitched four scoreless innings as a starter, affording the Mets some sense of stabilization. Maine followed.
"Did you think Santana was going to follow me?" Maine quipped.
He retired the first two batters. Six batters later, the Marlins led by five runs, and his spring ERA had a 23 to the left of the of the decimal. Three walks and 19 balls among his 37 pitches was quite inconsistent with Manuel's "throw strikes" edict.
But he was pitching unfamiliar circumstances, he said, and that was a factor. Often self-described as a creature of habit -- what starter isn't? -- Maine was out of routine.
"I wasn't comfortable. I wasn't into it," Maine said. "The feeling that it wasn't my game as a starter -- that was the hardest thing."
Maine has pitched in relief in the big leagues, but habits are habits. He was certain the change of role was a legitimate factor.
"It was everything," he said. "I was up [with pitches], down. I can't put my finger on exactly what was wrong. My delivery was fine. I was rushing a little. But that's normal when you haven't pitched in a while."
Pitching coach Dan Warthen had assigned Maine to pitch in relief rather than have him start the morning "B" game. He wanted Maine to experience the adrenalin caused by a crowd and facing better hitters. And Maine wanted no part of the morning engagement. He never said that about relieving in the afternoon game. He didn't need to. He got his pitches in.