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Sanchez likely to start year on DL

Sanchez likely to start year on DL

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As Spring Training winds down, Freddy Sanchez's immediate future becomes less and less certain.

The second baseman still has not played in a Grapefruit League game since twisting his right knee while turning a double play on March 6. The original diagnosis was day to day, but as time wears on, general manager Dave Littlefield is forced to look at other options.

And as much as he'd like to avoid placing the reigning National League batting champion on the bench to start the year, the disabled list is looking more and more like a viable option.

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"You always have to consider both ends," Littlefield said. "It's easier to deal with the end that goes well, but you have to be prepared for the situation that doesn't go well."

Though he has yet to see on-field action at even the Minor League level since the injury, Sanchez has progressed with his workouts, and is now hitting and fielding almost flawlessly, but not quite yet at full speed. The problem lies in his baserunning: not in straight lines so much, but rounding corners.

Pirates manager Jim Tracy made it sound as if the problem wasn't entirely physical, but perhaps a precaution Sanchez is taking.

"The important thing for me with regard to Freddy ... is that he is completely mentally free of thinking that he's anything but ready to go." Tracy said.

Sanchez hit .344 with six homers and 85 RBIs in 2006, to win the Pirates' first batting title since Bill Madlock in 1983.

Tracy said he'll keep his All-Star out of action until the 29-year-old is able to run the bases, which means the window of opportunity is closing on Opening Day. With just six days remaining before the team breaks camp for Houston, it's possible for Sanchez to get several at-bats each day at Minor League camp to readjust to live pitching, but it's unclear when, or if, that would occur.

"Until he gets to the point where he has no mental reservations, then we'll move ahead," Tracy said.

If Sanchez isn't ready to go by Opening Day in Houston, the team likely will go with Jose Castillo as its second baseman. Castillo was recently beaten out by Jose Bautista for the everyday spot at third base, where he's spent much of his time during the spring.

Littlefield mentioned the team has the same option to put Tom Grabow on the DL. Grabow, who was expected to join Damaso Marte in the bullpen for the left-handed relieving duties, has been sidelined since March 11 with an inflamed right elbow.

"The likelihood of [Grabow being ready to go] isn't real strong, but I'm not prepared to say [he's going on the disabled list] until we're definitively certain," Tracy said.

Teams are permitted to activate a player from the disabled list retroactive to the final nine days of Spring Training as long as the player has not participated in any big-league games. The player can, however, still compete at the Minor League games.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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