Coming days key for Sanchez
Reliever must show ability to recover quickly from outings
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Spring Training continues to progress and the calendar pages continue to flip -- and for many, that's a good thing. For Duaner Sanchez, it's not.
Each passing day increases the possibility that Sanchez will begin this season on the disabled list, far removed from a bullpen that could use his help. To that end, the next two days will be telling. If Sanchez can pitch effectively on Thursday night -- and, even more importantly, if he can fully recover from Thursday's outing after only one day's rest -- then he will quite likely head to Miami with the rest of the Mets come Opening Day.
If he can't, then his future will remain in flux.
"Is he on the borderline of not being able to break with us?" Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "Yeah, if he doesn't start to pitch in succession and get his work done. Yeah, then that's going to become a real issue."
The only way Sanchez can diffuse that issue would be to prove that his surgically repaired arm can handle the stress of back-to-back outings. He claims he's ready to attempt that now, even telling the Mets he was willing to pitch on Wednesday, one day after his latest Grapefruit League outing. The Mets responded with caution, telling Sanchez that he would pitch on Thursday instead.
"I tell them how I feel," Sanchez said. "They're the ones that make the decisions."
Though Sanchez hasn't pitched since 2006 -- undergoing two surgeries since that time -- his health issues appear behind him. His velocity and location are both fine, and though he's allowed a run in three of his four Grapefruit League outings to date, nearly all questions regarding his health have disappeared.
"Everything is a process," Sanchez said of pitching on back-to-back days. "I know I can do it. Is it the right thing to do? I don't know."
Most important is Sanchez's health. Considering how much the bullpen struggled in his absence last season -- it dropped from second to 15th in the Majors in bullpen ERA over the past two years -- the Mets would be willing to sacrifice a week in April to ensure a productive Sanchez all summer long.
"You want to be smart and try to communicate with the players and make sure they're ready to go," Randolph said. "You can't assume how a guy's feeling. But you do get to this time of the Spring Training season where you have to be smart and not overreact and push too hard. You have to start to roll a little bit, and we will. But with a relief pitcher, you always want to err on the side of caution and just give an extra day if you can."
The Mets may just have their answer after witnessing how well Sanchez recovers from Thursday's outing. With fewer than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, they must decide soon. A DL stint for Sanchez would open one additional bullpen spot for someone else -- be it Joe Smith, Brian Stokes or Steven Register.
Considering his strong spring and contract guarantees, fellow right-hander Matt Wise seems all but guaranteed a spot.
The rest depends on Sanchez, in a picture that should soon become clear.
"He's behind, obviously," Randolph said. "If he gets through [Thursday] real well, then that will give us a better feel if he can bounce back. All this is predicated on really the day after. I'm not going to sit and speculate."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.