April setbacks for Pedro Martinez and Mike Hampton contributed to disappointing starts for the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, respectively. Though the oft-injured pitchers appear to be headed in the right direction, the same can’t be said about both teams.
Martinez and Hampton square off as the surging Mets try to complete a three-game sweep of the struggling Braves on Thursday night at Shea Stadium.
Martinez (4-3, 4.96 ERA) left his first start of the season April 1 with a strained left hamstring, and spent the next two months on the disabled list. The Mets (70-57) struggled without the three-time Cy Young Award winner, and were just 28-28 before the right-hander’s second start of the year.
Martinez suffered through shoulder and hip injuries in July, but he’s been solid lately, going 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA in six starts since July 7. He held Pittsburgh to one run in seven innings of a 7-4 victory Saturday.
“I felt pretty good,” said Martinez, who was limited to five starts last season because of shoulder surgery. “It’s starting to come along. The last two outings, I’ve been making adjustments to get where I needed to be.”
Martinez’s recent success has helped New York win eight of its last nine games and pull 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Philadelphia in the tight NL East race.
“Pedro kept them off-balance and got big outs when he needed to,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said Saturday. “He pitched extremely well for us. It was very impressive. We need that type of effort going forward.”
Like Martinez, Hampton (2-1, 6.92) fared well in his last outing Saturday, limiting San Francisco to two runs in six innings of an 11-5 win - his first victory in Atlanta since Aug. 14, 2005. Hampton, a 22-game winner in 1999 and a two-time All-Star, missed all of the 2006 and 2007 seasons with elbow injuries, and had his 2008 debut delayed four months because of a strained left pectoral.
“For him to come back and hopefully do this for us is going to be nice,” Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “He pitched great. Hopefully he’ll do it the rest of the season. Hopefully we can get him back next year and he can do it the whole year.”
With or without Hampton healthy, this year’s Braves (56-71) don’t look like contenders. Hampton’s win Saturday was the team’s only victory in its last 10 games. Atlanta fell a season-worst 15 games under .500 with a 6-3 loss to New York on Wednesday night, and is on pace for its worst finish since 1990.
Mets third baseman David Wright homered in Wednesday’s game, and is batting .351 (20-for-57) with four homers, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored over his last 14 games. New York is 10-4 in that stretch.
“It’s great that we’re in a little bit of a groove now, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Mets catcher Brian Schneider said. “There’s a lot of baseball left.”
Martinez is 11-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 28 career games - 21 starts - against the Braves, whom he hasn’t faced since 2006.
Hampton, who spent the 2000 season with the Mets, is 5-7 with a 3.87 ERA in 14 starts against them since then. He hasn’t faced New York since July 17, 2005.