Sidelined since June 7 with a sore shoulder, Maine was back in the Citi Field clubhouse on Sunday, one day after throwing four scoreless innings in a rehab outing for Class A St. Lucie.
He said he felt no pain in his right shoulder, just the general soreness that would normally follow a start. Maine said he's scheduled for a bullpen session Tuesday, and Mets manager Jerry Manuel again pointed to the second game of a day-night doubleheader Sept. 13 at Philadelphia as a possibility for Maine's return.
"He's a guy we need to see," Manuel said.
New York is fourth in the NL East, far out of playoff contention. Still, Maine wants to get back on the mound before the year is over.
"The season's still going on. Everyone else is playing. I want to be a part of this. I want to play. I don't want to go home right now, so I worked to get back," Maine said. "I want to go out there and pitch."
In other news, Manuel also said he thinks outfielder Gary Sheffield will miss the rest of the season because of back spasms, and the chances of first baseman Carlos Delgado (hip surgery) returning this year are "very slim."
Maine said his rehab program changed after he was examined by Dr. James Andrews in late July. The pitcher went 2-2 1/2 weeks without throwing a ball and began to feel better after that.
The Mets have been calling Maine's injury "right shoulder weakness," but he hinted there's more to it than that.
"Sure, sure," Maine said with a bit of a smirk. "I've got an idea. It's weakness, so we'll say it's weakness."
Maine wouldn't go into detail about what he believes is actually wrong with his shoulder, but he said it was muscular, not structural. He said he'll definitely be healthy by spring training next year.
"It probably won't be actually 100 percent for the rest of the year, but it is good enough to go out there and throw," he said. "Coming back and pitching I think is better. I want to get a few starts under my belt and end the season fine."
Maine is 5-4 with a 4.52 ERA in 11 starts this year. He had surgery at the end of last season to remove a lesion from the back of his right shoulder socket, an injury that limited him to 25 starts and 140 innings. He was 10-8 with a 4.18 ERA in 2008.
"It's been tough. It's hard. Going back to last year is the first time I've ever been hurt," Maine said. "I just never really recovered from last year. So it's been hard to deal with."
The Mets were a World Series favorite in spring training, but a string of substantial injuries to star players have wrecked their season. Maine is one of 12 Mets on the disabled list.
"At least I can say I'm not the only one," he said.
After two injury-plagued seasons, the 28-year-old Maine said he's not concerned about whether the Mets might decline to offer him a contract for next year.
"I ain't worried about that. It's nothing I can control. If I'm not, I'm not. If I am, great. I'd like to be here. If it doesn't happen, then it's out of my control," he said. "When I've been healthy I've always given the team a chance to win."
Maine allowed two hits Saturday against Palm Beach. He struck out six, walked one and threw 40 of 58 pitches for strikes.
"The ball's coming out of my hand good right now. I'm pretty excited about it," Maine said. "I've been in Florida long enough. I'm here now. I'll pitch anytime."
Center fielder Carlos Beltran was still on target to rejoin the Mets on Tuesday. Beltran, on the disabled list since June 22 with a bone bruise to his right knee, played his fifth rehab game with Class A Brooklyn on Sunday, striking out three times and popping out with runners on first and third for the last out of a 4-2 loss.
"I feel good. I played nine back-to-back and everything feels good. I feel like I'm ready to go," said Beltran, who was 1 for 5. "I haven't spoken to Omar or the trainers yet about coming back Tuesday, but I feel like I can come back and play then. I am ready."