Martinez outing a relief for Sox

Boston ace quiets fears from poor opener with domination of Orioles

April 08, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A gusting wind that swept through New England yesterday was produced by the collective sigh coming from its baseball fans. It was strong enough to knock a few hands off the panic button.

Pedro Martinez, owner of three Cy Young awards and holder of the Boston Red Sox's fate, appears to be just fine. Doubts about his physical condition were removed as easily as the hitters he faced.

Coming off a disturbing start in Boston's opener, Martinez allowed one unearned run over six innings to defeat the Orioles, 4-1, at Camden Yards yesterday. He gave up three hits, including an infield single by Jay Gibbons in the fourth that created a run when third baseman Shea Hillenbrand skipped a throw to first, the ball rolling away from Tony Clark as Jeff Conine scored.

"I'm pretty pleased with the way everything went," said Martinez, who walked one and struck out five. "I made some adjustments and some of my pitches were better today. I feel like I was more consistent with everything. It was also easier for me to throw pitches than the last outing against Toronto.

"My health, thank God, I believe it's here."

Martinez posted a 6.62 ERA this spring, raising concerns about his right shoulder. Limited to 18 starts last season because of a slight tear and fraying in the rotator cuff, Martinez allowed seven earned runs and nine hits in three-plus innings against the Blue Jays.

"The report we got was his fastball wasn't as explosive as it had been and his command was iffy. We saw a little of the command thing, but his fastball was excellent today," manager Mike Hargrove said.

"I didn't see any problem with his shoulder," Conine said. "He was throwing 92 to 96 mph. He looked pretty good to me."

None of the Orioles watched video from the Toronto game. "We just saw the highlights and read about his first start," Conine said. "You have to prepare for the regular Pedro and if something else shows up, you go from there."

Martinez was removed after throwing 85 pitches - 18 coming in his last inning. Exhibiting the same patience that the Blue Jays used, Chris Singleton and Conine each worked him for seven pitches before flying out.

"They're a young team and they're going to be swinging," Martinez said. "They're aggressive. When they see fastballs, they're going to be swinging. I expected [David] Segui and Conine to be more patient, but those other guys, they're going to hack. That's the way to do it."

Martinez topped out at 96 mph and consistently hit 95, including an inside fastball to Segui that produced an awkward swing.

"I've seen him better, but he looked pretty darn good," Segui said.

Martinez improved to 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 45 1/3 career innings against the Orioles. He's 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA in five games at Camden Yards.

"He looked outstanding," second baseman Jerry Hairston said. "What I saw of the clips of him against Toronto, balls weren't really hit that hard. Balls that we hit found other people. Obviously, Opening Day for Pedro didn't go his way but I'm sure he was just as nasty."

Martinez had a more consistent arm slot yesterday, with the same fluid motion associated with one of baseball's most dominant starters. He also had a better feel for his breaking pitches, derived more power from his legs and stayed ahead in the count.

Is he all the way back? It's too soon to tell. But for one day, Red Sox fans could step off the ledge.

"This whole year is going to be a process where I have to see how my body reacts because I've never been in this situation before," he said.

"I hope to forget about everything soon and be Pedro, the one I was before."

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