John to re-Maine in Mets rotation

Updated: April 14, 2010, 9:26 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

DENVER -- A day after New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel suggested John Maine's rotation spot was in jeopardy, the right-hander initiated a half-hour meeting with his skipper at Coors Field.

Maine advised Manuel that he's abandoning the staff's spring-training emphasis on strike-throwing and going back to firing fastballs. If his control suffers, so be it.

"I'm going to get back to what I was doing," Maine said, referring to his 15-win season in 2007, before two years of right shoulder woes. "It may work. It may not."

Manuel already had resolved to allow Maine to make his next scheduled start, Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, in an ESPN-televised contest. If Maine suffers a fate similar to Tuesday's outing against the Colorado Rockies, when he matched a career high by allowing eight runs while lasting only three innings, Manuel suggested he would be forced to consider other rotation options.

"We need to see better results," Manuel said. "And he's on page with that. We'll have to see this next outing."

Manuel insisted he didn't give Maine an ultimatum, but the manager acknowledged the team's need for a quick start will lead to quicker hooks this season.

"I have to be a quicker evaluator than I've been," Manuel said. "The quicker that I can get things right, hopefully the quicker things can get on the right track. Patience is probably not a thing that I will have much of."

Maine said his mechanics are substantially different than three years ago. He didn't directly criticize the strike-throwing emphasis in camp, but he allowed for that inference.

"I don't want to get into why that is, but there's a big difference," Maine said about his mechanics. "I'm going to scratch everything I've been doing since the beginning of spring and get back to what I was doing two years ago and even last year."

During the meeting with Manuel, Maine (0-1, 13.50 ERA) resolved to make serious alterations to his pitch selection and mechanics for his upcoming start in an attempt to rediscover the fastball that led to a 15-win season three years ago.

According to FanGraphs, Maine threw his fastball 66.4 percent of the time in 2007. This season, he's thrown the pitch 54.9 percent of the time.

Inside Edge data reveals Maine's average fastball velocity is down 4.9 mph since '07, from 91.2 mph to 86.3 mph. He has topped out at 91 mph this year, compared with 99 mph during the 15-win season.

Also alarming, 11.6 percent of Maine's fastballs have been thrown in the dead-center of the strike zone this season, compared with the major league average of 4.5 percent. In 2007, Maine's percentage was 4.7.

A decreased emphasis on the fastball has coincided with the velocity of that pitch dipping, leading Manuel to speculate: "You don't use it, you lose it."

Maine's fastball used to have late life, which prompted balls to be fouled off. While that led to high pitch counts -- Maine averaged only 5 1/3 innings in '07 -- he also had a 3.91 ERA. At his reduced velocity, those pitches are getting punished.

Maine and pitching coach Dan Warthen spent Wednesday comparing video of Maine three years ago and now.

"What I wanted to tell him is I'm fine. My shoulder is fine," Maine said about the meeting with Manuel. "I know the No. 1 priority is to get back to throwing my fastball and challenging guys. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do that in my bullpen. I'm going to do that in my next start. I don't want to go out there thinking about innings or numbers or anything like that. It could be four innings next start. It could be seven innings. I don't know. But the fact is I'm going to get back to what it was.

"I've been throwing so much off-speed that I've lost the feel for my fastball, and that's not the kind of pitcher I am. Like I said, I have to get back to challenging guys. I've got to throw my fastball. If walks happen, walks happen. If the guys get a hit, they get a hit."

Maine noted it took until his fourth start last season to settle in as well.

"I'm frustrated right now. I'm mad right now," Maine said. "But I'm not at all hitting the panic button because I know what I can do. I've shown I can compete here. It's been four years. And I'm going to get it back. Obviously I would have liked it sooner rather than later, but it's going to be there."

Right-hander Mike Pelfrey suggested Maine, who usually beats himself up endlessly, actually is handling the current struggles well.

"He's actually been more positive," Pelfrey said. "I always joked around and said he was the moodiest guy I've ever met. He's actually been pretty even every day. We're good friends. He says he feels good. He talked about last year he got off to a slow start and got it going. Hopefully it's the same thing. I think the biggest thing is he feels good. I definitely think he's going to be better than the last two starts."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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