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Sanchez could miss most of season

Sanchez could miss most of season

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The bad news traveled neither far nor fast. Even hours after the Mets publicly acknowledged that Duaner Sanchez's repaired shoulder requires additional surgical repair, some teammates were unaware. For that matter, bullpen colleagues Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis had no idea. So their reactions on Monday were spontaneous and unfiltered. And touched with alarm.

"Serious?" Schoeneweis asked.

"He was being counted on," Wagner said. "That stinks."

And Heilman said: "I second that."

The truth of the day collided with the Mets' positive view of the 2007 season, as the impact of last year's taxi cab accident set in motion the series of events that will cause Sanchez to miss at least three months of the season -- perhaps all of it.

Examination subsequent to X-rays taken on Thursday -- which were negative -- detected a hairline fracture of a small bone, the coracoid, in the front of his right shoulder. The Mets doctors recommended surgery and insertion of a screw to hold parts of the bone together.

Sanchez hadn't committed to surgery as the Mets played the Dodgers on Monday night and told the Mets he might take a week to decide.

"I wasn't expecting this at all," Sanchez said. "It's frustrating because I was getting close. And I don't want to disappoint my team. But it happened. And now I've got to do what I've got to do."

Sanchez was unsure whether allowing the bone to heal without surgery would allow him to pitch again sooner.

"It was [a] long flight coming back [from New York]," he said. "I thought about it a lot. But I don't know. I've got questions to ask. But if it's the best way to have the surgery, I'll have to have it."

It was unclear whether the fracture was suffered in the early hours of July 31 when the cab he was riding in was struck in Miami. But fractures of the coracoid, difficult to detect, usually are associated with direct trauma.

The statement the Mets released on Monday said "pitching places stress in this bone." And it was determined that one of the ligaments that was reattached during the Aug. 1 surgery to repair the severe dislocation was reattached to the cocacoid.

Sanchez, the Mets said, will need six to eight weeks to recover from the surgery and another six to eight week beyond that before he can pitch competitively.

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Although manager Willie Randolph said he was counting on neither an early-season return by Sanchez nor a return to the level of performance Sanchez produced last year, the latest twist to the Mets' bullpen circumstances makes a bad scenario worse. Not only is Sanchez incapacitated until July at the earliest, but the rotation is to be manned by pitchers not likely to pitch into the seventh inning. And Heilman, again, has been afflicted with tendinitis, a malady caused by overuse.

It was Heilman himself who said Monday, "It won't fall to one man to take Duaner's place. We'll all help each other out." And it was Heilman who pointed out he had appeared "in almost half our games last year." He pitched 87 innings in 74 appearances despite the ongoing tendinitis.

And Wagner said, "It'll mean a little more work for everyone."

Heilman, who has yet to pitch on successive days this spring, says he can deal with the tendinitis, as he did last season. He threw on successive days only once in Spring Training last year. But the tendinitis already had developed.

The composition of the Mets' Opening Day bullpen remains undecided, but not because of Sanchez's situation.

The club had no thought of Sanchez returning before late April even before Thursday, when he felt a pop in his shoulder. It was diagnosed that day as breaking of adhersions. But pain persisted, and he flew to New York on Saturday for the tests that eventually detected the problem.

Without him in the plans, the Mets shifted Chan Ho Park, a starter by trade, to the bullpen. Park was to have made his first appearance as a recognized reliever on Monday night. Randolph wants to see Park in multiple outings this week, and he wants him to throw strikes rather than nibble like he did in his first three exhibition game starts.

If he prospers in the unfamiliar role, Park conceivably could emerge as the replacement for Sanchez as the seventh-inning pitcher. But at the moment, the more likely scenario has the two left-handed setup relievers, Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano, sharing the seventh with a right-handed pitcher -- Park and/or rookie Joe Smith.

Jorge Sosa, in the mix for a place on the staff when camp began, was eliminated as a possible replacement for Sanchez on Monday when he was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. Ambiorix Burgos, acquired to afford the bullpen a strikeout pitcher, probably will follow Sosa soon. Smith, because of his sub-sidearm delivery and his successful spring, remains the most likely option for the bullpen.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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