Manuel, for his part, predicted that Sheffield may only be available for pinch-hitting duties. But after Wednesday's game, Sheffield was more optimistic.
"I'm hoping to play," he said.
Certain to be playing is Tim Redding, whose grip on a rotation spot -- if not secure already -- tightened after he pitched five shutout innings against the Phillies last weekend. A free agent after this season, Redding will be on a count of roughly 90 to 100 pitches. And he will be playing mostly to prove he still belongs in a Major League rotation.
Following him, on Friday in Chicago, will be left-hander Pat Misch. Then rookie Bobby Parnell. Then journeyman Nelson Figueroa. Three more pitchers, all with something to prove. And that is hardly a coincidence.
One side effect of falling out of contention is that the Mets, proceeding with a cast of rookies, Minor Leaguers and veteran stop-gaps, have 35 more opportunities to audition their players in front of all of baseball. Some, like Parnell, will definitely rejoin the Mets next season -- in a role yet to be determined. Others, like Redding, will be looking to hook on where they can -- perhaps in New York, perhaps somewhere else.
For all the Mets though, their performance down the stretch should play a significant role in what happens next.
"What a stage, a tremendous stage," Manuel said. "This is the Major Leagues. You're pitching in a city with great exposure, and this is a great opportunity not only for us as a staff to view, but for the entire Major Leagues. They possibly wouldn't be getting these opportunities, so what they have to do is take advantage of them."
The Marlins know a thing or two about auditions, particularly with young players. In 2006, they gave then-22-year-old Anibal Sanchez a shot in their rotation. He responded with a no-hitter. And three years later, after one surgery and several injuries, their hopes for Sanchez remain as high as ever.
In his second start back from a right shoulder sprain, Sanchez will oppose Redding in Thursday's finale at Land Shark Stadium.
NYM: RHP Tim Redding (1-4, 6.10 ERA)
Redding had his finest outing of the season on Saturday against the Phillies, giving up a single hit in five shutout innings. Unfortunately for him, he was working on two days' rest, and the bullpen quickly coughed up a 1-0 lead. Redding is 4-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 12 career starts against the Marlins, including giving up seven runs in four innings in a loss to Florida on May 30. He is 3-1, however, with a 3.82 ERA in his five starts at Land Shark Stadium. Jeremy Hermida is 10-for-17 in his career off Redding with four doubles, a home run and nine RBIs.
FLA: RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-4, 4.97 ERA)
The Marlins couldn't have asked for a better return to the rotation for Sanchez than what he gave them his last time out. Making his first start since June 2, Sanchez flirted with a no-hitter at Atlanta on Friday, holding the Braves hitless through 5 1/3 innings before opposing pitcher Javier Vazquez singled. In six-plus innings, the 25-year-old gave up one run and struck out seven. This will be Sanchez's ninth start of the season. He faced the Mets on April 10 but was not involved in the decision. He has had two stints on the disabled list this year due to a right shoulder sprain.
Third baseman David Wright took batting practice Tuesday with Class A Brooklyn, and he will be reevaluated Thursday in New York. If he passes what assistant general manager John Ricco called a "rigorous" examination, he could be activated as early as Sept. 1. ... The Mets will also reevaluate outfielder Carlos Beltran within the next week. Only if his right knee bone bruise shows significant improvement will the Mets clear him to play. ... Mets prospects Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada will highlight the team's Arizona Fall League contingent, the team recently announced.
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Friday: Mets (Pat Misch, 0-1, 4.09) at Cubs (Ted Lilly, 9-8, 3.40), 2:20 p.m. ET
Saturday: Mets (Bobby Parnell, 3-6, 5.08) at Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 7-7, 4.07), 4:10 p.m. ET
Sunday: Mets (Nelson Figueroa, 1-3, 5.40) at Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 7-5, 3.80), 2:20 p.m. ET