March 22, 2008 -- PORT ST. LUCIE - The MetsNew York Mets aren't going to coddle Pedro MartinezPedro Martinez this season.
Manager Willie Randolph saw enough from the three-time Cy Young winner in his second Grapefruit League start yesterday to proclaim an end to the pitch counts that handcuffed Pedro last September.
Martinez is far enough removed from rotator-cuff surgery that limited him to the final month last season that the Mets now plan to unleash their 36-year-old star.
Those 90-pitch counts at the end of last year? History.
"This year, if he's feeling strong, Pedro is going to go out there and pitch unless he tells me differently," Randolph said after the Mets' 8-2 win over the Nationals. "When Pedro is feeling it, he's not going to come out of the game."
Martinez showed Randolph how he felt about that yesterday by grumbling at his removal after five innings and 71 pitches - four pitches shy of his scheduled limit - in a meaningless exhibition game.
"I felt like I could go two or three more [innings]," Martinez said after giving up two runs and five hits while striking out four. "I felt fresh - really fresh. I was surprised I was out [after five innings]."
Pedro was eager to stay in because he was fighting his way through the challenge of a dry, windy day that wasn't conducive to throwing his breaking pitches.
Martinez got into trouble a couple of times and was touched for a solo home run in the fourth by right fielder Austin Kearns, but he worked out of most of it and still felt strong when Randolph summoned Ricardo Rincon.
"It was one of those workmanlike outings that you like to see," Randolph said. "You just know that he's getting ready. Guys like Pedro know what time it is."
Pedro will make one more spring start, most likely next Wednesday here against the Marlins, before making his regular-season debut. That debut is expected to be April 1 against those same Marlins in Miami in the Mets' second game.
After listening to Martinez yesterday, the real games can't start soon enough.
"Last year, you didn't see me at all around here [in spring training]," he said. "It's totally different this year. I can't wait for the season to start and be with the team the whole time."
Pedro can't wait because his own spring has been so refreshing. The Mets have proceeded cautiously with him because of the rotator-cuff surgery, delaying his first start until last Sunday against the Tigers, but health issues have been non-existent.
"I pick up the ball now and throw it like I did early in my career, without even thinking about it,'' he said.
But Martinez isn't so upbeat that he's willing to predict inning totals or talk about anything beyond this season, even though he's in the final year of his contract.
"I don't even know if I'm going to be able to play next year," Pedro said. "I'm taking it day by day. If I get 200 innings, I bet you there's going to be offers. My numbers will talk for me. If not, I'm proud enough to go on my own."