Pedro Martinez is scheduled to return from the disabled list for his first start in a month and the New York Mets look to extend their double-digit NL East lead when they begin a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Friday.
Martinez (7-4, 3.45 ERA) was placed on the 15-day DL on July 6, retroactive to June 29, with an inflamed right hip. Mets manager Willie Randolph said the injury occurred when the right-hander slipped in the bathroom while changing his shirt during a series in Florida in May.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner was selected to play in the All-Star game earlier this month, but did not attend.
Martinez had his worst outing in two seasons with the Mets during a 10-2 loss to Boston on June 28. It was his first game in Fenway Park since leaving the Red Sox after their 2004 championship season to sign a four-year, $53 million contract with New York.
Martinez, who won Cy Young Awards with the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000, was tagged for eight runs—six earned—and seven hits over three innings.
“Obviously, he didn’t have his good stuff,” Randolph said. “Coming back here was a lot for him and I guess he didn’t have the focus that he normally has.”
Martinez is 10-8 with a 3.08 lifetime ERA and five complete games versus the Braves,
Since his last start, the Mets (60-41) have gone just 13-11, but still hold a 12-game lead over Atlanta (48-53), the largest of the six division leaders. The Mets had a 12-game lead on second-place Philadelphia and 15 over the fourth-place Braves on June 28.
New York salvaged its three-game series finale against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory in 10 innings. Jose Valentin’s bases-loaded single with two out in the 10th off former Met Glendon Rusch scored Carlos Beltran, giving New York its 15th win in its final at-bat.
Rookie John Maine scattered three hits over seven innings to run his shutout streak to 17 innings. He also tied a career-best with seven strikeouts, but his spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy when Martinez is activated.
“We’ll see,” Randolph said. “(Maine) needs to solidify a spot. Seventeen scoreless innings for him right now, that’s good.”
The Mets plan to send reliever Heath Bell to Triple-A Norfolk to open a roster spot for Martinez.
Horacio Ramirez (5-3, 4.04) will get the start for the Braves. He pitched seven innings against Philadelphia on Sunday, allowing one run and a season-high 10 hits but failed to get a decision in the Braves’ 5-1 win.
“Ramirez gave up a few hits, but he’s a groundball pitcher and we had three double-plays,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Ramirez is 3-2 with a 4.26 ERA in his career against New York.
The Braves, whose run of 14 consecutive division titles is in jeopardy, were limited to six hits in a 6-1 loss to Florida on Thursday.
“We’ve got to come out firing tomorrow,” Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles said. “This is important.”
Third baseman Chipper Jones is questionable for this contest. He missed Thursday’s game, not wanting to aggravate a strained side muscle that caused him to sit out three of the previous four contests.
Jones is second on the team with a .332 average and third with 59 RBIs. His 35 homers in 160 career games against the Mets are the most he has recorded versus any opponent.