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Pedro throws off front of mound

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Pedro Martinez took another step Saturday in rehabilitating his sore right toe, throwing from a slope about a foot in front of the pitcher's mound.

Martinez threw 32 pitches and appeared to throw smoothly, although without his typical speed and power. Twice he took breaks for trainer Ray Ramirez to work on his customized right shoe, which cracked slightly where a cleat had been moved to relieve pressure on the toe.

It was the first time Martinez had stepped on a mound since last September.

The right shoe Martinez used Saturday has a cleat moved further down than normal to help him experience less pain during the pitching motion. Martinez also wore a pair of gel pads to protect his toe.

He feels confident his toe will not delay his start with the Mets this year. "I believe I'm going to be there Opening Day unless something goes wrong," he said.

Martinez said he was able to push off his right leg again in
ways he wasn't last fall.

"I can't compare it right now to the way it was toward the end
of the season because toward the end of the season, I couldn't
really push. I couldn't really get on that leg that much, but now,
it feels a lot better. So now, I'm probably 70 percent better than
I was during the offseason."

Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson calls Martinez' choice to
throw from the slope normal progression for a pitcher coming back
from injury. He said typically it is done for pitchers coming off
arm injuries, but he believed the same principle applied to
Martinez toe situation.

"Were going to wait and see how it is," Peterson said of his
timetable deciding when to put Martinez on the top of the mound.
"They're looking at the shoe right now, and were going through how
the shoe felt. It felt better. Its always still an adjustment. In
fact, it felt great, and that's the biggest factor of all."

Manny Acta, Mets third base coach and manager of the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic, said Martinez wont
make the squad's opening pool play in Orlando, March 7-10. The
Dominican team is still considering him a possibility, however, for
WBC rounds in Puerto Rico and California later in the month.