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03/15/09 7:51 PM ET

No curveball yet, but Maine improves

Righty gives up four in first frame, but retires final nine batters

JUPITER, Fla. -- There was to have been an unveiling of sorts Sunday, when John Maine pitched against the Marlins. He was supposed to remove his curveball from the mothballs and begin polishing it for April display. Instead, he threw the Mets a curve: Maine limited his repertoire to fastballs, sliders and changeups.

Maine pitched four innings against the Marlins, throwing 72 pitches, but without polishing -- or throwing -- the breaking ball pitching coach Dan Warthen has urged him to add to his arsenal. One day after Maine, Jon Niese and Tim Redding had an audience with Sandy Koufax, a day after the three had talked Uncle Charlie philosophy with Lord Charles, Maine put his new-old breaking ball back in the box. The mission was scrubbed, rescheduled for next time.

"It still wasn't the right time to get back to it," Maine said after his uneven, but encouraging, performance.

The right-hander still felt uncomfortable on the mound in the first inning Sunday, when the Marlins scored four times. The runs weren't the reason for the discomfort; the discomfort was the reason for the runs. But Maine retired his final nine batters, and he emerged from his fourth exhibition game appearance with the sense that he again belonged on a mound.

Now Maine can go forward -- and back to the breaking ball that he had abandoned following his March 5 start against Team Italy. He had to regain his feel for his fastball before he could work on the curve. Warthen wanted Maine to throw the curve to add some deception to his four-seam fastball. Unlike Mike Pelfrey, who has also added the curve since Warthen replaced Rick Peterson as pitching coach last June, Maine hasn't abandoned the slider.

Warthen had wanted to see five or six curves among the 70-something pitches Maine was to throw on Sunday. The coach figured 10 curves in a 100-pitch outing will be about the ratio in the regular season.

"The curve starts out high in the zone, like his fastball," Warthen said.

Next time out, on Friday against the Orioles, Maine will probably bend a few and begin to polish the curve and get himself ready for the Mets' third game of the season. His arm is stronger, his legs are "there," as the pitchers say, and he's finally thinking properly.

Perhaps time with the Hall of Fame pitcher with unequaled mystique helped. Perhaps Maine would have reached the point he needs to reach without guidance from Koufax.

"I don't know," Maine said, "but just talking to him was cool. That he took the time to help [was] very cool. ... I never thought I'd talk to him."

Lending expertise to the Mets' pitchers in Spring Training is an almost annual rite for Koufax. Thirteen years ago, he staged his first one-man clinic for John Franco and Al Leiter, and anyone else who chose to listen. Last year, at the request of Billy Wagner, he talked curveball with the Mets closer. And in between, Koufax helped other pitchers, and not just members of his fraternity: Kappa Delta Southpaw.

"We've got great resources," Warthen said. "We should use them."

Koufax has accommodated Mets staff members such as bullpen coach Guy Conti and former Mets pitching coach Dave Wallace, and shared his expertise. And of course, he has his longstanding friendship with Mets owner Fred Wilpon, himself an old curveballer from Brooklyn.

"Fred likes curveballs," Warthen said.

Warthen said Niese, who already has a big league curveball -- though not a big league job -- asked insightful questions of Koufax.

"They were on the same wavelength," Warthen said. "He asked Sandy if he'd ever tried to throw the curveball for a strike [that is, to reduce the velocity for the sake of command]. He told him he just threw it as hard as he could."

That response resonated with Maine, who had made his big league mark with a similar philosophy about his fastball. But somehow, he lost that approach this spring. Finesse over fastball didn't work for him.

"I'd been trying to pinpoint things, and that's not me," Maine said. "And I was getting whacked."

See the first inning Sunday. Maine allowed a two-run double to Dan Uggla and a two-run home run to Cody Ross. When Robert Andino led off the second inning with an infield hit, opponents' spring batting average against Maine was .361. Maine's ERA was 11.25.

And then, the next nine batters went down.

"It didn't just click, but l think I started to feel like I was in the right place, doing things the right way," Maine said. "But I wasn't feeling that way for a long time.

"I can't believe how long it's taken me to get comfortable. If I missed a pitch, I was thinking way too much about little things like my leg kick, arm slot, tempo ... things like that. That's not what you're supposed to be thinking. That was moreso in the first inning. The last three, I didn't really concern myself with that, and I got better results."

Notes: The Mets scored six runs in the seventh inning, two in the eighth and one in the ninth to beat the Marlins, 10-5. A game-tying two-run triple by Luis Castillo and a two-out, two-run double by Nick Evans were the critical hits in the seventh. ... The club assigned Tony Armas Jr. to Minor League camp. ... Duaner Sanchez may still have a chance to attend the opening of Citi Field. He has signed with the Padres, the first Citi Field visitor. ... John Franco, his week as a camp instructor complete, will throw out the first pitch at the Georgetown-St. John's game at Citi Field on March 29. Franco pitched for St. John's in college.

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