THE SUREST sign that Pedro Martinez will soon wear Phillies red came yesterday when the pitcher himself was scheduled to touch down in Philadelphia in advance of a physical that team sources suggest will take place today.

Whether it is a move that pays dividends remains to be seen.

Will Martinez, who told the Associated Press last week that he feels better than he has in years, give the Phillies an answer for a hole in their rotation that has been plugged by stop-gaps since Brett Myers was lost for the season in May?

Or will the 37-year-old pitcher who has been limited by injuries the past two seasons discover that his shelf life as a major league starter is over?

Either way, the Phillies feel the experiment is one worth conducting, particularly given the low bar Martinez will have to step over to represent improvement over veterans Jamie Moyer and Rodrigo Lopez or young lefthander Antonio Bastardo.

Martinez, who suffered a rotator cuff injury that limited him to five starts in 2007 and a groin injury that limited him last season, will take a physical this morning, the last step before any free agent deal is consummated. Provided he passes, the signing would likely be announced tomorrow in order to avoid upstaging the All-Star Game.

The terms of the agreement - and, therefore, the amount of monetary risk the Phillies will assume - is unknown. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., in St. Louis for the All-Star Game, has declined to comment other than to acknowledge that the Phillies scouted Martinez last week. Martinez' agent, Fernando Cuza, indicated late last week that the two sides were close to a deal, but did not return calls yesterday.

A media report out of Martinez' native Dominican Republic last week said that the future Hall of Famer and the Phillies had reached an agreement worth $4 million, but Cuza laughed off both the report and the amount.

Phillies players in St. Louis for the All-Star Game indicated that the risk was worth taking.

"I think it's great," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "Pedro Martinez is Pedro Martinez. I don't have to explain who he is. I think he'll fit right in. I expect him to mesh right in. He's had an awesome career and I think he's still got some bullets left."

Martinez' last full season was in 2005, when he went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA for the Mets. The following season, he went 9-4 with a 3.42 ERA in his first 19 starts, but struggled in his final four and finished the year with a 4.48 ERA. That offseason, he underwent shoulder surgery that sidelined him until September 2007.

Martinez finished 2007 strong, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA in five starts, but could not carry that success into 2008, when he went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA. He averaged just over five innings per start in 2008, a concern Phillies manager Charlie Manuel raised when asked about Martinez last week.

But members of the Phillies' front office watched Martinez pitch twice in the Dominican Republic last week and came away impressed.

"They said they liked Pedro," Manuel said yesterday. "They said he threw better than he was last year and that he was in better shape."

While he no longer throws in the 90s, the Phillies aren't the only ones who believe he can still help a major league club. Martinez competed for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Although he did not start, he struck out six and allowed one hit in six scoreless innings.

Amaro said last week that the Phillies were looking at Martinez as a starter and not a reliever.

"Judging by the WBC, he pitched pretty well," said Mets third baseman David Wright, who played with Martinez from 2005-08. "You can never count a guy like Pedro out. He's got a certain competitiveness to him and a fire to him that not too many pitchers have. Whether he is throwing 95 or 88, he is going to find a way to get guys out."

Manuel said he is not concerned about Martinez' fierce reputation.

"Pedro is a professional," Manuel said. "I've never had trouble with guys in the clubhouse. Just ask him to be professional, and if we get him, I'm sure he'll go along with whatever we do." *

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