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All Eyes on Pedro Tonight

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez reacts to a video while working out prior to a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)Between 1998 and 2004, Pedro Martinez was arguably the finest pitcher in baseball. He won a total of 117 games during that period with the Boston Red Sox, while losing just 37. With three Cy Young Awards in four seasons, it was clear the guy became a legendary figure.

That is not the Pedro of today. After a tumultuous ride through Flushing, the Mets cut ties with him after he started just 25 games in two seasons. Injuries plagued him for much of his time in New York, a common theme for power pitchers with a workhorse-like mentality.

That is not the Pedro of today, either.

He will not shut teams down, he will not throw 97 and paint the corners, and he will not stay on the mound into the late innings. It’s just not who Pedro is at this point, but that’s fine. All the Phillies can hope for is a small upgrade over Jamie Moyer. Whether or not that comes to fruition will be answered in the coming days and weeks, but for now, the prospects are somewhat intriguing.

It would be foolish to think Pedro can return to form as the front-line weapon of yesteryear. Really, there is no way to predict what we will see from Martinez, as the last time he pitched, an injured hamstring cost him the rest of 2008, and his spot in the Mets rotation. Here’s what to watch for as Martinez faces off against the Chicago Cubs for his first start with the Phillies:

-What does his velocity say? If Pedro is hitting 90 mph with consistency, then success could follow. It means his arm strength really is there, and was not just a product of an amped-up radar gun. Forget about the first inning, too. His emotions should allow him to register 90-plus with ease. But once he gets a few innings under his belt, keep a look out to see what that number says. If it sinks into the mid-80’s, trouble will be lurking.

-Tying into that, how much will he throw his breaking pitches. Martinez thrived on his cannon for years, but that is absolutely no longer the case. His control is vital to his success, so if he is missing with the fastball, look for a ton of breaking pitches.

-This season has not been kind to aging arms that have attempted a comeback. John Smoltz, who joined the Boston Red Sox in the offseason, was recently let go by the team following several poor performances. Jason Schmidt, one of the premier power pitchers in the game a few years back, may have to call it a career as injuries have taken their toll. Others like Jamie Moyer and Randy Johnson have not had much success in 2009 either. Will Pedro fall into that grouping, or can he prove that there is something left in the tank?

-What will make this tour with the Phillies a success? Does Pedro need to wow us like old times, or can he simply be slightly better than Moyer? Tempering expectations is a must. If he wins half of his starts and keeps his ERA in the high-four’s, then consider this a win for the Phillies. However, if he flames out, and is unable to contribute down the stretch, the Phils will have taken a chance, nothing more.

Who is the Pedro of today? Find out tonight in Chicago.

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