For Pedro Martinez, a minors adjustment
LAKEWOOD, N.J. - As Pedro Martinez made his way down the line of lunging fans who held out baseballs, ticket stubs, and even Mets jerseys to be autographed, a man handed the pitcher an open cell phone. He wanted Martinez to say hi to his friend.
Martinez turned to his right with a look like Are you serious? But he kept moving down the line, mostly embracing the gimmicks that come with minor-league baseball.
Yes, Martinez remains in limbo, traveling around the minors until the Phillies deem he is ready or they decide how to use the righthander - whichever comes first.
FirstEnergy Park, home of the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws, was yesterday's destination. He threw a 53-pitch bullpen session with an emphasis on ironing out problems he had from the stretch Friday at Lehigh Valley, where he allowed four runs in the fifth inning.
After throwing 35 of those 53 pitches from the stretch, Martinez said he was pleased with his progress.
"We wanted to specifically work on the pitches that I missed in the stretch," he said. "Like I said before, I thought it was something that could be quickly corrected. I hope I can put it into play soon."
But the Phillies don't exactly have an opening in the starting rotation, and as they figure out what to do with Martinez, the three-time Cy Young Award winner will stay in the minors. The plan is for another rehab start Wednesday at double-A Reading.
"From there, we'll decide for the next one," the 37-year-old Martinez said.
After four pitches yesterday, he stopped and talked with Lakewood pitching coach Bob Milacki while practicing his leg kick out of the stretch.
"He felt he needed to work at it," Milacki said. "He knows what he needs. He doesn't need a pitching coach to tell him what he needs. He's his own best pitching coach."
Milacki said Martinez had asked him to pay attention to whether he drifted to one side while throwing out of the stretch. The coach said he hadn't noticed any hitches. "He's pretty smooth," Milacki said.
With his role uncertain, Martinez disagreed with the notion that the stretch was more important to a reliever. He has been a starter his entire career, but Martinez said it was easier for a starter to become a reliever than vice versa because a starter must pitch efficiently from both the windup and stretch.
Whether he will have to make that adjustment remains to be seen. As he did Friday, Martinez expressed a desire to start, but said he would do whatever the Phillies asked.
Right now, that's for him to stay in the minors and polish his game.
It's unusual territory for Martinez, who said he hadn't known where he was going yesterday until the driver dropped him off here. He did not begin his session until 4:28 p.m., more than three hours later than scheduled. A steady rain had kept him indoors on a stationary bike.
When he did appear, wearing a blue Phillies jersey with "MARTINEZ 45" stitched on the back, fans gathered down the right-field line two and three rows deep to watch him throw from the bullpen in foul territory. Eventually, that crowd included the Lakewood players, who progressively stopped stretching to watch Martinez.
Later, Martinez signed autographs for more than 30 minutes, saying the fans deserved it, having waited so long to see him.
After all, he is waiting, too - for a return to the majors.
"I would like to pitch right now," Martinez said, "but it's not up to me."