Sitting at his locker an hour and a half before game time, Pedro Martinez turned his head to the right, and then to the left. It is a movement that most people take for granted, but for much of the last 10 days he has been unable to do so without some pain. Yesterday, though, Martinez labeled himself healthy and ready to return to the mound, which he will do tonight against the Astros.
"I feel fine," Martinez said while speaking briefly to reporters.
Martinez, who strained his neck during an at-bat against the Braves on Sept. 19, threw a bullpen session on Sunday and was satisfied with the results. The Phillies have played it safe with the 37-year-old veteran righthander, but are confident that he is ready to pitch. Martinez, who threw just 56 pitches in three innings against the Braves before leaving the game, said he did not think the 10-day layoff between starts would affect him. His last extended outing came on Sept. 13, when he threw 130 pitches in eight scoreless innings of a 1-0 win over the Mets.
Starting Martinez tonight instead of tomorrow has a few benefits. First, it will give lefthander Cliff Lee an extra day of rest. Lee has already thrown 226 innings this season and is just 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his last six starts (in his first five starts after the late-July trade that brought him from Cleveland, he was 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA). Second, it will better set up the Phillies' playoff rotation, assuming they clinch the National League East, of course.
Had Lee started tonight, on his normal turn, he would have entered Game 1 on 6 days of rest. Now, he'll have the opportunity to pitch the first game of the National League Division Series on 5 days rest, when statistics say he performs the best. Lefthander Cole Hamels, who started all three Game 1s last postseason but makes his final regular-season start on Saturday, would be on normal rest for Game 2. The Phillies could limit Hamels on Saturday if they really want him to pitch Game 1. But because both starters will be available to pitch Game 5 if necessary - thanks to 2 off days, the Game 1 starter would be on normal rest - the Phillies could leave their rotation as it is.
J.C. Romero sat at his locker with his left hand in a pool of clouded muck, part of a medical device designed to clean out the various impurities from his body. Although the pool was not an appealing sight, Romero's outlook on his immediate future was bright. The veteran lefthander allowed two hits in one scoreless inning Monday against the Astros, his first action since a forearm strain landed him on the disabled list in late July.
Romero threw 21 pitches - 12 fastballs, seven changeups and two sliders, according to an unofficial tally. His fastball averaged 90 to 91 mph, topping out at 92 and bottoming at 89. That isn't too far below his normal range, which usually sits in the low 90s and can climb to 94.
Romero was happy with his command. And although he is unable to pitch on back-to-back days for the time being, he is confident he will be available tonight.
"I can go every other day," Romero said. "The goal is to get to a point where I can go 2 days [in a row] and then rest."
Major League Baseball has reserved Monday and Tuesday for any necessary tiebreaking games. If the Phillies and the Braves end up tied, and both of their records are higher than the wild-card leader, the Braves would be crowned division champions thanks to their superior head-to-head record, and the Phillies would enter the postseason as the wild card. But if their winning percentage is worse than that of the wild-card leader, they would play a one-game playoff at Turner Field on Monday.
Of course, there are other scenarios that would require a tiebreaker.
If the Braves, Phillies and the wild-card leader all finish with the same record, a one-game playoff for the division would be held on Monday, and the loser would face the Rockies in a playoff on Tuesday. The Phillies would host the Rockies.
If the Braves, Phillies, Rockies and Dodgers all are tied, there would be two divisional tiebreakers on Monday, followed by a wild-card tiebreaker between the losers on Tuesday.
If the Phillies win the division and finish tied with the Cardinals, they would own the higher seed. If they finish tied with the Dodgers, the Dodgers would own the higher seed.