ATLANTA -- Now that they have allowed the Phillies and Braves back in the race, now that their hold on first place has been compromised. ... now after four dreadful games in Philadelphia. ... now finally, the Mets plan to make some noise in the National League East.

It is almost audible now. The noise began early Friday evening, and by Monday, it may be audible throughout the game. Pedro Martinez is about to return. Pedro, his changeup, his entourage, his curveball, his charisma, his cutter and all those decibels are about to rejoin the Mets and, as Kevin Mitchell used to say, rock their world.

Following a "bullpen" audition Friday afternoon and after a need for another arm in the Mets' rotation had developed, the club announced Martinez will pitch in one of two places Monday -- in Brooklyn in a Class A New York-Penn League game, or in Cincinnati in the Mets' game against the Reds.

General manager Omar Minaya said a decision is forthcoming Saturday, but he provided no scenario in which Martinez would feel well enough to pitch Monday and not pitch in Cincinnati. At the same time, no one connected with the Mets could envision a scenario in which Martinez wouldn't make his 2007 debut -- a return from right rotator cuff surgery less than 11 months ago -- against the Reds.

The possibility -- read: probability -- constitutes a significant acceleration of what the Mets had said they planned for Martinez. Before Friday, they all but stated he would return next weekend at Shea against the Astros. Minaya said another Minor League rehab start was likely. Then again, Martinez changes speeds as well as any pitcher.

Minaya said the plan was to wait until Saturday morning to determine how Martinez's body responded to the 64-pitch bullpen session Friday. But Martinez said, "I believe I'm going to feel good," and Guy Conti, the Mets' bullpen coach and Martinez's confidant, said he'd be surprised if the Mets' starter Monday were someone other than Martinez.

"We've taken what we consider to be the safer course of action," Minaya said. "But he looked very good today. As a whole, that's the best we've seen him."

The Mets need a starter -- beyond Saturday's game, which now is to be started by Mike Pelfrey -- because Orlando Hernandez is to miss at least one start because of a sprained metatarsal ligament in his right foot, a malady that developed before El Duque's flawed start against the Phillies on Thursday, according to Minaya.

Hernandez, who was examined and received a cortisone injection in New York on Friday, now is listed as "day-to-day." The uncertainty surrounding him played a role in the club's decision involving Martinez's return, but Minaya wouldn't say which development -- Martinez's effective work in the 'pen Friday, El Duque's injury or the renewed division race -- had the greatest influence.


"If I'm throwing between 85 and 89 [mph] and I have command of my pitches, I'll get anybody out."
-- Pedro Martinez

"The fact that Duque is day-to-day. ... that adds to the possibility of [Pedro] throwing a Major League game," Minaya said. "When you put those little things together, that's when you get in a position of saying [the] Major Leagues may be an option."

It was encouraging enough, Minaya said, that Martinez's pitches appeared "crisper" to him and a small battalion of observers that included Conti, pitching coach Rick Peterson, manager Willie Randolph, Minaya, assistant GM Tony Bernazard, Minor League pitching instructor Randy Niemann and the trainers.

"He threw the ball pretty good," Minaya said. "At least from my eyes, I saw progress from the last time I saw him in Port St. Lucie [Aug. 20]."

"He's not as fine-tuned as he will be," Conti said. "But he's ready to be game-tested. His changeup and cutter are crisper now, and his endurance is up. It was exciting today with him. I know he wanted to get back in. He's excited."

The excitement was evident in the clubhouse as teammates filtered in. Martinez greeted many of them with energy, noise and promise. He said he expected he could pitch six innings -- i.e., throw 90 pitches -- Monday and that he thought his velocity would be sufficient.

"If I'm throwing between 85 and 89 [mph] and I have command of my pitches," Martinez said, "I'll get anybody out."

The "anybodys" he will face include Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr.

The clubhouse was pleased to see Martinez.

"He brings a fresh energy for that pennant push," David Wright said. "And he's a pretty good pitcher."

"He'll change the clubhouse, you know that," Paul Lo Duca said.

And Billy Wagner had a different take: "Maybe he can close. That's great."