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03/24/09 6:38 PM ET

Pelfrey not running as well as he might

Pitcher's conditioning compromised by left leg strain

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Mike Pelfrey's lower left leg was wrapped Tuesday, as it has been most every day since March 6, the day he made the preliminary self-diagnosis: shin splints. The injury, actually a muscle strain between his ankle and his shin, hardly is an active issue. Indeed, Pelfrey considered pitching against the Astros on Tuesday without the wrap, until Mets trainers exercised caution.

"I hardly feel it," Pelfrey said.

The absence of pain is not to suggest an absence of effect, though. Since the days before Pelfrey felt a tug below his left shin, he hasn't run. Because of that mysterious pull in an area rarely injured, he hasn't done any of the endless, sometimes grueling running pitchers do. And without that integral component of conditioning, Pelfrey may not be as ready as he'd like to be at this stage.

Pitchers baby their arms, but they abuse their legs. Position players often ridicule the once-every-fifth day work schedules of starting pitchers, but they know how much running is required. They know pitchers must "have their legs" to compete, whether they are masters of the drop-and-drive delivery -- see Tom Seaver -- or use mechanics that are one percent legs, 99 percent arms, a la Freddy Garcia.

Pelfrey, at 6-foot-7, is somewhere between those extremes and quite dependent on the long legs that make him a most conspicuous factor in the Mets' plans for the 2009 season.

His pitches began to disobey in what became an 8-0 loss to the Astros. He had allowed six hits and one run in four innings. His game disintegrated in the fifth.

"They told me I looked a little tired," said Pelfrey, who threw 84 pitches on the day.

Pelfrey couldn't say for sure. But he knew he hadn't executed some of the pitches he threw in the fifth inning, his final inning, when the Astros scored six runs, five of them charged to his account. Fatigue could have been the reason. He didn't think he had lost focus.

"The more guys I have on, the most focused I usually am," he said.

As he examined is work day, Pelfrey inadvertently built a convincing case, noting he had run hard beating throws to first base in the third and sixth innings.

"And those were the two innings I gave up runs," Pelfrey said. "I guess it could be that. I was winded each time. ... But I don't want make excuses."

Excuses are different from reasons. Pelfrey hadn't run in nearly three weeks. That is more reason than excuse. He's ridden the exercise cycle.

"That's not that same," he readily acknowledged, adding the bike is fine for cardiovascular benefits, "but we need to run."

He seemed more troubled by his performance than he would typically be. Pelfrey had been progressing since missing a turn of the rotation on March 9 because of the muscle strain. His appearance against the Astros was his third since his return to duty. He had thrown six innings and surrendered one run against them March 19 in his most recent start before Tuesday.

Manager Jerry Manuel attempted to explain away the ugly inning.

"There comes a time in Spring Training," Manuel said, "when pitchers hit a lull ... usually at this time. Then you pick it back up. ... I'm not concerned by what I saw."

Pelfrey wasn't fretting, but he wasn't carefree either. He had hoped to make more progress, hoped "to turn it up a notch." "I still have time," Pelfrey said.

He'd prefer to spend some of it on the run.

Garcia sent down: The Mets have re-assigned Garcia to their Minor League camp with the intention of having the veteran pitch in the Triple-A rotation or having him remain at Port St. Lucie, Fla., after spring camp breaks to pitch in the extended spring program.

Not that any doubt existed, but with Garcia now removed from the competition for the No. 5 starter assignment, Jon Niese already re-assigned and Tim Redding all but certain to begin the season assigned to the disabled list, Livan Hernandez is the last man standing and the fifth man starting.

Still, Manuel wouldn't say that. The Mets told Garcia, 34, he would not be on the Opening Day roster and that the club would not hold him to the Minor League contract he had signed, but he chose to remain with the Mets and give himself more times to regain velocity and command. He has lacked both in each of the six appearances he made. He allowed runs in each except a two-inning appearance against the University of Michigan.

Odds and ends: Reese Havens, the Mets' selection in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, made his exhibition game debut. He had a single and a walk in three plate appearances. ... Ryan Church had a tooth extracted and didn't play. ... Brian Schneider caught Johan Santana's bullpen session in Port St. Lucie; he is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday. His right knee no longer is an issue. Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran are to return too. ... David Wright probably won't play until Friday, Manuel said.

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