Houston Astros' Fernando Martinez follows through on a three-run home...

Houston Astros' Fernando Martinez follows through on a three-run home run off Washington Nationals pitcher Tom Gorzelanny in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game. (March 4, 2012) Credit: AP

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- For seven years, Fernando Martinez was the Holy Grail of Mets prospects, his superstar potential always more myth than reality. Derailed by stubborn leg problems, Martinez played a total of 47 major-league games, batted .183 and hit two home runs.

That frustration led the Mets to place him on waivers during the offseason. The Astros scooped up Martinez and yesterday they started him in leftfield against his former team.

"I appreciate that the Mets gave me an opportunity," said Martinez, who went 0-for-3. "But I'm very happy now because I feel good. I have a new start with a new team."

Martinez is competing for a bench spot with the Astros, but with a minor-league option left, he can be sent down.

This year he has not experienced any of the medical issues that frequently sidelined him with the Mets. At one point, because of recurring knee tendinitis, he was a candidate for microfracture surgery.

The Mets grew tired of his inability to stay on the field. "It was scary to call down [to the minors] to see how he's doing and find out he wasn't playing," Terry Collins said. "But in the right spot, if he can stay healthy, he can put numbers up."

Martinez said he lost 15 pounds in the offseason, which has helped his knees. In nine Grapefruit games, he's hitting .190 (4-for-21) with two doubles and three RBIs.

The only evidence of Tim Byrdak's surgery last Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus was a small stitch in his left knee. He has an outside shot of being ready for the April 5 opener.

David Wright (abdominal strain) was allowed to hit soft tosses and off a tee. The Mets hope to have him take regular batting practice by midweek . . . OF Cesar Puello and RHP Jeremy Hefner were optioned to the minors.

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