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Maine mediocre but on track

Mets starting pitcher John Maine throws a warmup

Mets starting pitcher John Maine throws a warmup pitch during a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. Maine surrendered a two-run homer to Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus in the first inning but followed with three shutout innings. (Mar. 20, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

JUPITER, Fla. - With his history of shoulder issues, John Maine has been graded on a curve in spring training. Regardless of the numbers, as long as Maine reports no discomfort, the Mets figure he is on track for the No. 4 spot in the rotation.

So in that sense, Maine's rather mediocre four-inning start Saturdayin the Mets' 6-5 loss to the Cardinals had to be considered a success. He allowed four hits, and both runs off him scored on Colby Rasmus' two-out homer in the first inning.

Afterward, Maine had no problem identifying the problem. "My slider was around the plate, but it was flat," he said. "It just didn't have much depth to it."

He tinkered with the grip on his slider in an effort to correct it, which he said is not unusual in the course of a game. Now he has just under three weeks to be ready for his April 9 start against the Nationals at Citi Field.

Perhaps the biggest difference in Maine has been his unusually upbeat demeanor after games. He doesn't beat himself up nearly as much, and even when someone joked about his relief appearance last week, he shrugged it off.

"If I was in that role, I'd have to find a way to do it," Maine said. Does that mean the bullpen is a possibility for him? "No," he said. "I don't want that. I like starting."

Bullpen bon mots

Kiko Calero is lagging a "little behind" the other members of the bullpen as far as getting prepared for the regular season. It showed Saturdaywhen Calero served up the winning home run to Ruben Gotay in the bottom of the ninth inning. Calero didn't sign until March 4, and Manuel is trying to get him back-to-back appearances at some point. That's a necessity if Calero is to be ready to join the bullpen by Opening Day. "I would think that he has time," Manuel said.

Jenrry Mejia also made yesterday's trip but did not pitch in what would have been his first back-to-back appearance. That's the true test for any reliever, and with Mejia making the switch from starter to bullpen, it seems the Mets are taking it slow with him. Manuel expects Mejia to pitch Monday against the Astros in Kissimmee.

Extra bases

Frank Catalanotto had an RBI double and sacrifice fly. He is scheduled to start in leftfield Sunday . . . The Mets will split up Sunday, with one squad hitting the road to face the Astros and another hosting Michigan - Fred Wilpon's alma mater - at Tradition Field.

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