Pedro: Ailing toe could keep him out of WBC

Updated: February 22, 2006, 6:04 PM ET
Associated Press

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Pedro Martinez acknowledged Saturday that his ailing toe might prevent him from pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

Pedro Martinez

"It depends on my health and how comfortable I feel here and how quickly I can get on a mound," the New York Mets' ace said after the team's first spring training workout.

"Obviously, I'm a little bit behind, but I would love to represent my country and actually be part of it -- even if it's not in the first round -- and to try to be healthy enough to try to help my country win it."

In fact, the Mets' two best pitchers were unable to throw off a mound on the first day of camp: New closer Billy Wagner got queasy during drills and went home with a stomach virus. He said his kids were sick all week.

But it's Martinez's tender toe and custom Nike shoe that have created all the buzz in camp.

Nursing an injury that has hampered him since last season, Martinez stayed inside doing cardiovascular work while the rest of New York's pitchers and catchers went through the first day of scheduled practice.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner came out just after noon to play catch and long toss in the outfield with manager Willie Randolph. As trainer Ray Ramirez, pitching coach Rick Peterson and Martinez's new wife looked on, the right-hander tried out a modified version of the special shoe that Nike designed to alleviate the persistent pain in his right big toe.

"It's improving. I'm feeling more comfortable," Martinez said. "It's going to take a little time."

One of the spikes on the custom shoe was shaved down in attempt to make it more comfortable. Another option is to reposition the spike.

"I'm not quite as comfortable yet, but we're finding the right track," Martinez said. "I'm trying to act normal, I'm just not on the mound."

The 34-year-old Martinez played catch several times during the week, but hasn't thrown off a mound since September -- and there is no timetable for when he might do so. That remains up to him.

"I think he'll probably throw off the mound soon," Randolph said. "Obviously, he's going to have to get off the mound sometime. I just can't tell you exactly when."

The injury, which makes it painful for Martinez to bend his big toe as he pushes off the pitching rubber with his right foot, caused him to miss his final two scheduled starts last year with the Mets on the brink of playoff elimination.

He said his toe first began bothering him just before the 2004 playoffs with Boston, and he received a cortisone shot. It flared up again last June, and Martinez pitched through it for the rest of the year.

Even with spring training underway, the Mets maintain they're not concerned yet.

"When you look at where he is, we've got a nice cushion of time," Peterson said, adding that he's "not the shoe coach."

"We all trust Pedro's judgment," he said.

The Mets also say they won't try to dissuade Martinez from pitching in the WBC. The Dominican Republic plays its first game March 7 against Venezuela in Kissimmee.

"If Pedro feels he wants to play, he has my blessing," Randolph said.

Martinez's health is crucial to a Mets team that expects to make the playoffs after adding Wagner, first baseman Carlos Delgado and catcher Paul Lo Duca this offseason. The starting rotation might be New York's biggest question mark.

General manager Omar Minaya said his understanding at the end of last season was that surgery wasn't an option for Martinez. Simple rest was supposed to help his toe.

"It's not that he can't pitch with this," Minaya said. "Pedro can pitch with this the way it is right now."

The real worry, of course, is that the pain in his toe could make Martinez alter his delivery and possibly hurt his arm. Minaya said major league teams are insured if players get seriously injured in the WBC.

"For Pedro, for the New York Mets, he's going to make the right decision," Minaya said. "I was hoping that by now he would be OK, but that's not the case."

Martinez, who signed a $53 million, four-year contract with the Mets in December 2004, went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA last year. He struck out 208 batters in 217 innings spanning 31 starts.

"We want to just take him slow, that's all. Pedro does a lot of his work indoors anyway," Randolph said.

Three other members of the Mets' projected rotation, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano, did throw about 40 pitches each off a mound Saturday.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press