Martinez 'right at home' in return to mound

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If nothing else, rehabbing a surgically repaired right shoulder has changed one thing about Pedro Martinez: his punctuality. The typically late Mets pitcher arrived at the team's minor league complex five minutes earlier than what team officials estimated Tuesday morning.

With a large media corps on hand, Martinez was in a playful mood as he walked out to the fields flanked by family members; his personal trainer, Chris Correnti; and minor leaguer Danny Cummings, who served as his personal catcher. After going through agility drills, Martinez played long toss up to 120 feet with Cummings before stepping to the mound for the first time in eight months.

The original plan was for the 35-year-old Martinez to throw 25 pitches. But after he threw the first 15 and took a break for water and a few words with Correnti and minor league rehab coordinator Randy Niemann, Martinez said he felt great and threw 31 pitches -- all fastballs -- before Correnti told Martinez he was done for the day.

"Wow! Am I?" Martinez said to Correnti. "I was shocked. It felt right at home."

His rotator cuff surgery last fall forced him to miss the playoffs and the Mets' run to the National League Championship Series, which they lost in seven games to St. Louis. Martinez by then was in a sling and recuperating, slowly working his way back. But in the clubhouse after Tuesday's throwing session, Martinez -- calm but jovial -- said his conditioning had prepared him well and his legs felt as strong as he could remember.

"I was very confident about the way I feel," said Martinez, who's bounced around from Port St. Lucie to Miami to the Dominican Republic during his training. "I've always said it since I started working that I have one thing in mind: get ready and get healthy."

Those close to Martinez, known for his competitive spirit, feared he would rush his rehab. Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, a longtime friend of Martinez, compared the shoulder surgery to a divorce. Now is the time, Conti said, for Martinez to reconcile with the mound and recapture a feel for pitching.

"His mentality is pre-Montreal," said Conti, alluding to the chip on Martinez's shoulder after the Dodgers traded him to the Expos in 1993. "He has that determination."

Reporting no nervousness, Martinez said he was more relieved to reacquaint himself with the mound. Though no timetable is set, he hopes to throw off a mound again Friday. The publicly stated goal is for him to return to the Mets by August. But Martinez, confirming his friends' fears, admitted he would have put more pressure on himself for an earlier team if it weren't for the Mets' great start to the season.

"It gives me the time to actually be the way they want me to be," he said. "I'm sure that [my teammates] are waiting for me to come back, but that they want me to come back healthy."

With his hair coiffed into a short but neat afro, and wearing a canary yellow polo shirt, Martinez spoke with a glow, but was neither bombastic nor hyper, as he can sometimes be. He spoke of wanting to stay under the radar with the media, of how difficult his rehabilitation has been, since he had never had surgery before and was unsure of how his body would respond. For now, Martinez wants his sole focus on regaining his health and his arm.

"When he comes back, watch out!" Conti said. "Watch out because he's determined to be the Pedro of old."

And though he didn't come out and talk about a determined state of mind Tuesday, Martinez hinted at it when asked if the surgery could actually make him stronger than before.

"Without a doubt, everybody needs the rest," he said. "I'm a workaholic. Even though Ray [Ramirez, the Mets' head trainer] and those guys over there tried to stop me from working, I didn't want to. I refused to. Being so stubborn is probably what got [the shoulder] worse. And right now I'm letting them take charge of me."

He doesn't know when he'll be back on a major league mound, but he believes it will be this season. And with Martinez's new aversion to tardiness, the Mets are hoping that trend continues.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.