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Maine ready to take first step back to Majors

Maine ready to take first step back to Majors

Maine ready to take first step back to Majors
SCOTTDALE, Ariz. -- John Maine's first crack at earning a spot on the 2011 Rockies roster will come on Wednesday, when he gets in his first game since he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last July.

The 29-year-old right-hander came up through the Orioles' system, debuting with the Birds in 2004 and making a splash when he was traded to the Mets before the 2006 season. He's established a 41-36 record in parts of seven big league seasons, but nagging shoulder issues culminated in last season's surgery and produced his first losing season since his 2005 eight-start campaign in Baltimore.

"[Wednesday's] game will give us a little more of a barometer," pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. "Health-wise, he looks good. He looks fine. Delivery-wise, he's making some adjustments that get back to the John Maine that I remember. We have to go over each hurdle one at a time. Wednesday will give us a better reading for him."

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The Rockies have taken it slow with Maine, giving him time in intra-squad games rather than throwing him right into the full-blown competitive atmosphere of Cactus League action.

"He's going to have to fight his emotions," Apodaca said. "It's going to be something that he's done before, but he has to be prepared that he's going to get a little excited -- and make the proper adjustments after that. He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's been a very, very good listener. And his application has been very, very good, so I'm anxious to see [him in a game], too."

Maine hit 90 on the radar gun his last time out, an encouraging sign. But as he launches his comeback bid, Maine doesn't mince words, giving an honest account of his ailments.

"I think there's just normal soreness," Maine said on Monday, describing his status at this stage of the spring. "It's been so long, trying to tell the difference between soreness and pain. It's always in the back of your mind that it's going to come back, but I can't be worrying about that, or I won't ever be able to pitch. Just go 100 percent and see what you can do, and that's what I've been doing."

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Maine isn't exactly on the radar for the Opening Day rotation, but the fact that he's ready to compete in March is something of a triumph after last summer's surgery.

"[Doctors] said it's about a year to be back 100 percent and start pitching," Maine said. "I had it [at the] end of [July], and here I am about to get in a game, now."

With Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, and Jhoulys Chacin penciled into the Rockies' rotation, and a battle already in place for Aaron Cook's spot if his right shoulder soreness keeps him from heading north with the club, Maine is a more likely candidate to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. There, he can re-establish his game, while waiting for an opportunity to earn a callup to the parent club.

"The main goal is just to get me healthy, so I can help give the team a chance to win," Maine said. "I'm not going to win 20 games, but you know I'll go out there and compete, and it's just getting back to that."

Maine's career year came in 2007 with the Mets, his first full season in the Majors, when he went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts. He made 15 starts for the Mets the previous year, setting a rookie Mets record with 26 consecutive scoreless innings, surpassing Dwight Gooden's previous record of 23 innings in the process.

"I've never worried about 'I'm going to be here, I'm going to be there,'" Maine said, recalling how he earned his first start for the Mets when Orlando Hernandez was scratched on rainy day with borderline playing conditions. "I've just been prepared and pitched as well as I can. That's the way the game is. You're pitching well and they need somebody, then you pitch well enough to stay there. That's what I hope to do now. I just have to work my way back up."

Maine's made a habit of being in the right place at the right time. He made the postseason roster for the Mets in 2006 -- when Hernandez and Pedro Martinez were both injured -- and he went 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in three starts. He's ready to do whatever he can to contribute in Colorado, even if it means going to the bullpen, where he has made three appearances in 108 big league games.

"I'm open to it," Maine said. "When it comes down to it, beggars can't be choosers. I'm open to anything that would help me get back in the big leagues and pitch effectively. If that's what this team needs, I'm fine with that. It's just getting back to pitching, and putting the past in the past."

But the Rockies didn't pick up Maine for the 'pen. They are optimistic about his ability to return to the craft he has always practiced.

"That's what John Maine is ... a starter," Apodaca said. "He's always that guy -- you don't know when his services are going to be needed. Hopefully, we can get an extended look. It's tough right now with as many pitchers as we have in camp, but I think after we do a little more cut downs and trim the roster a little bit, we can get him consistently into big league games."

Maine liked what he'd seen from the Rockies from opposing dugouts over the years. He was also impressed with how seriously they took him when he threw for scouts early in January to show clubs he was capable of competing on the big league level after his second shoulder surgery in three years.

"There's a good group of guys, a good clubhouse," Maine said of his decision to accept a non-roster invitation to the Rockies' spring camp. "It just seemed like a good fit for me to come here. A small change, getting away from the East Coast and [onto a team] with different attitudes all played into it."

The commitment he made to beat expectations and get back on the field ahead of schedule should serve him well, as he tries to make an impression on the Rockies in March and earn himself an opportunity to figure into their season at some point.

"After two years [of feeling like] not being able to pitch, I was going to bust my tail almost like a last-ditch thing," Maine said of his efforts to return to form. "Because if I don't, who's going to want an ineffective pitcher? Nobody. I had to work hard to get back. That was the drive that helped me get there."

If the past is any kind of prologue, the Rockies will need depth behind their rotation, with a core of starters on call in Triple-A Colorado Springs who can contribute up the road in Denver. Starting on Wednesday, Maine will be making his case that he can be that man.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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