Pedro Martinez had a forgettable end to his 2006 season, as an injured shoulder caused him to struggle down the stretch and forced him to miss the New York Mets' postseason run.
This time around, Martinez is hoping to give the NL East-leading Mets a boost over the final month of the season and into the playoffs.Martinez makes his first start of the season Monday when New York opens a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.Martinez endured a disappointing 2006, as he made two trips to the disabled list and posted a 15.43 ERA in losing his final four starts. He made his last start Sept. 27, and instead of pitching for the Mets (76-60) as they advanced to within one game of the World Series, the three-time Cy Young winner underwent surgery Oct. 5 to fix a torn right rotator cuff.He'll return to the mound nearly 11 months after the procedure -- quicker than normal for rotator cuff surgery."Nobody has been able to climb that big mountain," Martinez told the team's official Web site. "I'm happy to give it a try."Martinez made four rehab starts, including last Monday when he gave up an unearned run and five hits in six innings for Class-A St. Lucie.Mets manager Willie Randolph said Martinez threw "crisp, nice and free" and said the throws appeared to be "effortless coming out of his hand."The right-hander will be on a pitch count of 75 and no more than 35 pitches in an inning. Martinez needs two strikeouts to become the 15th player in major league history with 3,000.In his only start against Cincinnati last season, he allowed two runs and two hits in six innings of a 6-2 victory June 22. Martinez has won his last five decisions versus the Reds since a 9-7 loss for Montreal on Sept. 28, 1995, and is 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 17 games -- 11 starts -- lifetime against them.The Mets are coming off a three-game sweep of Atlanta after dropping five in a row.New York, which lost four straight in Philadelphia and led the Phillies by only two games before the series with the Braves, recovered to push the division lead back to four with Sunday's 3-2 victory."We're extremely proud of what we've accomplished," said third baseman David Wright, who hit a two-run homer. "After one of the low points of the year, we hit one of the high points of the year. That was pretty special."Wright is 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs in his last five games, and is batting .356 (21-for-59) with four homers in 17 career games against Cincinnati.The Mets have won three of four over the Reds this season and 10 of the last 14 meetings.Cincinnati (62-75) lost 3-2 at St. Louis on Sunday as the Cardinals pulled off a three-game sweep.The Reds went 2-5 on their road trip but play their next nine games at Great American Ball Park, where they have won a season-high six straight. They have not won seven in a row at home since May 19-25, 2004.Cincinnati will have Aaron Harang (14-3, 3.51) on the hill looking to continue his recent dominance.Harang threw a two-hitter Wednesday, allowing one walk and striking out eight in an 8-0 victory over Pittsburgh, his fourth straight."I said it before, and I'll say it again. He's just a pleasure to watch," Reds manager Pete Mackanin said.Cincinnati's ace is 9-1 with a 2.90 ERA in his last 17 starts, the only loss coming July 28 to the Chicago Cubs when he left after allowing two runs in the first inning with a sore back. The Reds have won 14 of Harang's last 15 starts and are 22-6 with him on the mound this season.The right-hander has a 1.85 ERA in his last five home starts, and is 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 14 starts at Great American Ball Park this season.In his only start of the season against the Mets, Harang allowed three runs, seven hits and struck out eight in six innings of an 8-4 victory at Shea Stadium on July 13. He's 2-0 with a 4.40 ERA in three career starts against New York.Ken Griffey Jr. is batting .125 (4-for-32) with a homer in his last eight games against the Mets, and is 1-for-14 (.071) with six strikeouts lifetime against Martinez.