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Maine Event *chortle*

With questions flying every which way with regards to the Mets rotation picture, it has to feel good to watch John Maine -- seemingly a throw-in, an afterthought in the pre-season trade that sent Kris Benson to Baltimore in exchange for Jorge Julio -- go out there and put zeroes up on the board for two straight starts. Last week he hurled a complete game shutout, and today he scattered three hits and three walks over seven scoreless frames.

He always had good numbers in the minor leagues:

H/9  : 7.44
BB/9 : 2.82
SO/9 : 9.56
HR/9 : 0.62
He wasn't particularly impressive in six starts last season with the Orioles, and he struggled a bit in his first couple of starts this season, though his first outing we can chalk up to the finger problem that would land him on the disabled list just days later.

Over his last two starts, one against the Astros and one against the Cubs, his numbers look like this:

IP : 16.0
R  : 0
H  : 7
BB : 4
SO : 11
Despite picking up just one win this season (to three losses), Maine now sports a tidy 2.45 ERA and a WHIP of 1.00 even.

The most refreshing aspect of Maine's performances has been his approach to pitching. Twice a week the Mets throw nibblers out on the mound in Steve Trachsel and Tom Glavine. Don't get me wrong, both of these guys have found plenty of success (Glavine moreso than Trachsel) over their respective careers by pitching to spots and keeping hitters off-balance. Neither has ever really been considered a strikeout pitcher, and though Trachsel once threw consistently in the low-nineties, both could aptly be described as "control" or "finesse" pitchers; certainly not power pitchers.

Contrary to their styles, Maine has the gas to ratchet his fastball up to 94-95, and I love that he isn't afraid to go right after opposing batters. A great deal of credit goes to Paul Lo Duca who, as we've heard Keith Hernandez utter on any number of occasions, calls an unusually-aggressive game. This plays right into Maine's strengths, who has good control and isn't afraid to throw that fastball up in the strike zone. Pitchers with less heat will get burned throwing fastballs up in the zone, but Maine can get enough mustard on it to blow it by good major league hitters with regularity.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we have to put Maine's performances in a little bit of context: the Astros and the Cubs are the two lowest scoring teams in the National League. This shouldn't necesarily take away from what Maine has accomplished, but we need to take it with the proverbial grain of salt, since it's not as if he shut out the White Sox and the Indians.

Still, his teammates came away impressed:

"He really showed me a lot," [Carlos] Beltran said. "He's got a good fastball."
The next turn through the rotation will be a long one, as the Mets have apparently committed to a six-man turn, which will give some of their veterans an extra day of rest. It's not likely that the six-man rotation will last more than a turn or two, though, so the Mets will have some decisions to make regarding those pitchers. Despite his recent success, Willie Randolph apparently hasn't conceded anything to Maine:
"We'll see," Randolph said. "He needs to solidify a spot. Seventeen scoreless innings for him right now, that's good."
The Mets do not seem inclined to move Mike Pelfrey to the bullpen for a spell, and I would tend to agree with that stance. He would be better off starting on a regular basis at AA Binghamton (or AAA Norfolk) than seeing action once or twice a week for an inning at a time with the big club. Unless there's another injury to the staff, somebody is going to grab the short straw. If Pelfrey comes out this weekend and puts up another less-than-stellar performance, he might be the one to go.

In other rotation news, Brian Bannister made his first rehab start with St. Lucie tonight, and he struggled quite a bit, particularly with his control. He pitched five innings, allowing six hits, four runs, two earned runs, four walks and struck out one. The most important thing is that he is back out there pitching and that he (presumably) didn't re-injure anything this time around.

Pedro Martinez comes off the disabled list to pitch the opener of the Braves series, which begins Friday in Atlanta. The Mets have an 11.5 game lead over the second-place Braves, and they are fortunate enough to miss John Smoltz this time around, who pitched on Wednesday.