Originally created 03/09/06

Mets ace is close to returning

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez threw his longest bullpen of the spring Wednesday and appears ready to face batters soon.

Martinez threw 62 pitches, nearly double his previous high of 34 this year. He removed the two gel pads from his right shoe between his warmup and bullpen session, stating it would help him better understand how his right big toe feels.

"It was a really good day," Martinez said. "I felt a little bit uncomfortable but nothing to stop what I'm doing."

HEADS UP: In Sarasota, Fla., the Pittsburgh Pirates' Sean Casey was struck in the helmet by a pitch from Cincinnati left-hander Michael Gosling in the third inning of a split-squad exhibition game.

Casey lay on the ground for about 30 seconds as the crowd was silenced and Gosling covered his head while crouching in front of the mound. Casey went to first base and left the game after the inning.

IN MEMORIAM: In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Twins announced plans to honor Kirby Puckett in a free public ceremony Sunday night at the stadium, with testimonials from family, friends, and current and former Twins, along with video highlights of his life and career. The family plans a private ceremony earlier that day.

The Hall of Famer died Monday in Arizona, a day after suffering a stroke. Puckett was 45.

Puckett's No. 34 was stenciled outside the first- and third-base lines, flags flew at half-staff and fans and players observed a moment of silence before Wednesday's game vs. Cincinnati.

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Infielder Alex Cintron was acquired by the White Sox from Arizona for pitcher Jeff Bajenaru.


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