Cards' Mulder struggles in loss to Mets

Saturday, March 5, 2005

JUPITER, Fla. -- Pedro Martinez picked up right where he left off last season, and so did Mark Mulder.

That's good news for the New York Mets -- and maybe a reason for the St. Louis Cardinals to start worrying.

Each team trotted out its new ace Friday, and Martinez looked much sharper than his wild counterpart during New York's 7-5 victory.

Pitching for the first time since shutting down St. Louis in Game 3 of the World Series last October, Martinez went three innings and threw 60 pitches.

Not so for Mulder, who lasted only one inning because it took him 44 pitches to get three outs. He walked four and gave up a two-run single to Cliff Floyd in his first appearance since he was traded by Oakland on Dec. 18.

"It's not that big a deal. I'm not that concerned with results in spring training. I just want to make good pitches," Mulder said. "Those are things you get out of the way now. As long as you're healthy and making good pitches, that to me is the only thing that matters."

Mulder certainly didn't make many good pitches late last season.

After going 12-2 with a 3.21 ERA in the first half, he started and won the All-Star game. But the 6-foot-6 left-hander stumbled badly the rest of the way, going 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in his last seven starts.

Martinez gave up David Eckstein's jam-shot infield single that eluded charging shortstop Jose Reyes, and a ringing double to Pujols off the base of the right-field fence. Eckstein scored on a passed ball and Pujols came home on Scott Rolen's easy RBI groundout.

Martinez then struck out slugger Jim Edmonds on three pitches, including a called third strike, and settled in from there. The right-hander allowed three hits, struck out three and was credited with the win in his first outing since leaving Boston for a $53 million, four-year contract with the Mets.

"We're not going to get crazy about pitch counts," rookie manager Willie Randolph said. "We don't worry about that because he's in great shape. You see him work. He's not going to break. He'll be fine."

Because the Mets batted around in the first, Martinez actually made his New York debut as a hitter, which he said was "kind of weird." He bounced out to first with two on to end the inning.

With his final pitch, Martinez retired Pujols on a hard grounder to second before walking off the mound to an enthusiastic greeting of high-fives near the New York dugout.

"Pretty good for the first time," Martinez said. "It went pretty smooth, especially physically."

He said he's felt extremely strong since last July, and reports of a decrease in his velocity last spring were puzzling.

"A lot of that had to do with a negotiation," Martinez said. "I think somebody wanted me cheaper. So a little campaign against my arm probably wouldn't hurt, right?"

Mike Piazza had a big day for the Mets in his first game of the spring, hitting a two-run double to right-center and throwing out Reggie Sanders trying to steal second.

But everybody wanted to know what it was like to catch Martinez.

"He's obviously advanced at this point," Piazza said. "When he's on it's just kind of like driving a sports car because you know he can do anything."

Notes: After experiencing numbness in his pitching hand, Mets reliever Felix Heredia underwent tests in New York and was headed back to spring training. His problem was not expected to be serious, but the Mets said they should have more information Saturday. ... Ex-Met Bill Pulsipher, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2001, threw two scoreless innings for St. Louis.

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