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08/14/07 4:15 PM ET

Pedro making progress on the mound

Veteran looking at Sept. 1 as earliest return

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Never mind the mediocrity of his final line in Tuesday's Gulf Coast League game against the Dodgers. Pedro Martinez came away feeling he is getting closer to a return to the Mets.

Martinez gave up four hits and three runs in four innings in the noon game under sauna-like conditions. He walked one and struck out four in 60 pitches -- 47 for strikes -- and would have gone out for the fifth inning, except that the Mets took about 30 minutes to bat in the fourth.

So the three-time Cy Young Award winner went to the bullpen area in back of the stadium with rehab pitching coordinator Randy Niemann and threw another 20 pitches -- all fastballs -- to finish his day.

Martinez required just 31 pitches to buzz through the Dodgers batting order in order over the first three innings. Then he endured a 29-pitch fourth inning when the right-handed-hitting Pedro Baez hit a two-out, three-run home run over the left-field wall.

Martinez said later that he hung a cut fastball, usually one of his more effective pitches.

He was happiest about getting better mastery of his sinker and changeup, pitches that hurt him in his first start in a Minor League regular-season game last Wednesday against the Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Martinez, who had rotator cuff surgery last Oct. 5, said he felt much better than he did in that start.

"I had more command," he said. "I actually felt like I pitched a little bit. I put my pitches where I wanted to. Overall, it was a jump ahead." Martinez is likely to continue pitching every six days, and he said he wants to continue his rehab in Florida.

In another breath, he said he is getting anxious to leave Florida as quickly as possible, maybe even after his next start. That is mostly because he feels his bigger advancement may come when he's pitching to Major League hitters again.

"My concentration level will rise," he said. "There is no room for mistakes up there, no room for you to be messing around."

He mentioned how easy it is to pick up useful tips when he's around Mets pitching veterans like Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez. "Here," he said, "the kids are looking at me for tips and I'm struggling."

There is that part of Martinez pushing for a quick return, and there is another side of him that wants to continue to have patience. He said near the end of his press conference that it could well take three more starts before he returns.

Counting six days for each start, he would then be eligible for a New York return on Sept. 1. "In five games," he said, "you know if your body is ready."

Martinez acknowledged holding something back on his fastball in Tuesday's game. It stayed in the low- to mid-80s, and reached 88 once -- after Baez's home run.

"It's unfair to expect Pedro to throw 98 in the ninth inning like I've done," he said. "That would mean my arm is like it was in '97 and '96. I wish I could do that, but I'm not counting on it. I've put my arm through a lot and now I've had surgery on it. It's been beat up."

Someone suggested he might be able to reach 91 again eventually. "I'll take that any time, with all my changeups and cutters and curveballs," he said. "Really, I'm not worried about my velocity. I just want to work on my consistency around the strike zone and my concentration."

In one moment he cautioned that he's "never had a stretch where I didn't touch a ball for so long" like has happened in the last year. The next, he was thinking optimistically about a return to New York after a bullpen session and his next start.

"If I'm able to make the adjustments and feel I can throw good in New York," he said, "then I'll head up there."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.