Maturing Maine hopes to keep contributing

NEW YORK – When John Maine was told he'd been traded to the Mets, he initially welcomed the trade, viewing the transaction as a new beginning.

The 25-year-old right-hander couldn't have known how right he'd be. After being viewed as a throw-in to a trade that dumped Kris Benson on the Baltimore Orioles, Maine has revamped himself as a pitcher and found his niche as a member of the Mets' starting rotation.

"I thought a change of scenery would be good, and I'm glad it happened," Maine said Wednesday. "The coaches here (with the Mets) have helped me out so much."

Maine – in line to start Game 2 of the Mets' National League Championship Series against the Cardinals – specifically pointed to strides made with pitching coach Rick Peterson, helping him accurately pinpoint the pitcher he is.

Peterson has made physical adjustments with the rookie, most notably a change-up which served Maine well down the stretch, when he went 6-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 55 strikeouts over his last 12 starts.

But he also worked on Maine's mental game, which needed refining when he was acquired from Baltimore with since-dispatched reliever Jorge Julio for Benson.

"I think one of the biggest things was, just throw a pitch and don't be afraid of getting hit," Maine said. "If I throw it, (I) throw it with conviction. That was a big thing. And I also found out going through things, I'm not much of a finesse pitcher. I've got to stay aggressive."

Before Maine's NL Division Series start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, rotation veteran Tom Glavine gave the right-hander a thumbs-up regarding the progress he has made this season. An afterthought in spring training, Maine will be a large factor if the Mets are to achieve postseason success in 2006.

"I like his make-up. He's a tough kid mentally," Glavine said. "You know, he doesn't get intimidated a whole lot by what's going on. You know, as the season has gone on, he's gotten more and more aggressive as a pitcher. He's gone after hitters more and more, and I think because of that it's no coincidence he's had more success.

"But, I mean, he's got good stuff, you know. He's got a sneaky fastball. He's got a good changeup. His breaking ball has continued to improve. He's a battler. He's going to go out there and give us a chance to win the game and I think we're all confident that he's going to do that."

16 regular season games – plus one playoff start – into his big league career, Maine appears to have turned a corner. His 4 1/3 inning start in the Division Series should just be the beginning of a long and fruitful career.

"I think I've done a lot of maturing," Maine said. "I've learned the game more in these three or four months here than I learned in Baltimore, and that's just because you get put in these situations and you've got great coaches behind you.

"They teach you the right things, the way to do it and the way it should be done. That's helped me out a lot."

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