Pedro throws off flat ground with special shoe

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- After years of disappointment, New York Mets fans are used to waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This spring, the shoe in question belongs to Pedro Martinez.

Hampered by a painful foot injury since last season, the three-time Cy Young Award winner threw on flat ground again Thursday wearing a special Nike shoe designed to alleviate the persistent discomfort in his right big toe.

With Mets trainer Ray Ramirez, pitching coach Rick Peterson and bullpen coach Guy Conti watching closely, Martinez played catch and
long toss in the outfield with Peterson's son, Sean.

The ace right-hander hasn't thrown off a mound since September because of his ailing toe, which caused him to miss his final two
scheduled starts last year with New York on the verge of playoff

He didn't offer much as he walked off the field Thursday, either.

"It's all right. It's coming along," Martinez said.

The injury makes it painful for Martinez to bend his big toe as
he pushes off the pitching rubber with his right foot. After
aggravating his toe while working out, he said he went 10 days this
month without running or throwing a baseball at all.

Now, there is no timetable for when Martinez might throw off a

"He'll be ready when he's ready. He's been highly successful, and successful people make good decisions," Peterson said. "He
won't force the issue."

With Martinez so far behind his normal spring schedule, it seems doubtful he would pitch for the Dominican Republic early in the inaugural World Baseball Classic -- though he hasn't ruled that out.

Martinez has said all along he would like to participate. The Dominican Republic plays its first game March 7 against Venezuela
in Kissimmee.

"Today, he says he's playing. That's an individual decision.
That being said, it's an individual decision, but we will monitor
him," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said.

"We're going to continue to monitor him with our medical staff. We're going to continue to have conversations with him. ... We monitored it all winter in the sense of where it was. We sent
trainers down there, we sent pitching coaches down there."

Martinez reported to spring training Tuesday -- early, for the second consecutive year -- and complained that Nike hadn't delivered the special spikes it promised.

He received the custom shoe Wednesday, tried it out while playing catch in the outfield and said it felt OK -- but not overwhelmingly better. The Mets said Nike would keep tweaking the shoe, repositioning one of the spikes and trying to make the padding more comfortable.

"There's going to be other shoes coming," Minaya said.

Martinez wore a modified turf shoe when he played catch Thursday, the Mets' scheduled reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

After leaving the Boston Red Sox for a $53 million, four-year contract with New York, Martinez went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA last
year in his first season with the Mets. He struck out 208 batters
in 217 innings spanning 31 starts.

His health is crucial to a team that expects to contend for the NL East title after adding slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado, All-Star closer Billy Wagner and dependable catcher Paul Lo Duca this offseason.

No. 2 starter Tom Glavine turns 40 next month, Aaron Heilman is trying to move from the bullpen to the rotation, and Minaya recently traded starting pitchers Jae Seo and Kris Benson.

"The first step is we got his shoe here, which is great," Minaya said. "Every team that you look at, every GM today, has a guy or two, a premium guy, that he's talking about an injury.

"If we had major doubts that Pedro would not be OK, then it's something different. We feel comfortable that he's going to be