In this morning’s Journal News I wrote about Duaner Sanchez’s return after a year-and-a-half. Enjoy and have a good day.-JD
This can be a lonely place in the winter.
Itâ€™s easy to get a table at a restaurant because thereâ€™s no tourists or teammates.
This winter Duaner Sanchez was alone with his thoughts, his fears and a skeleton staff.
“I was here by myself,â€™â€™ Sanchez said. “You donâ€™t have a lot of choice. You either work out or you donâ€™t do it. If you donâ€™t do it, you donâ€™t pitch.â€™â€™
Sanchez hadnâ€™t pitched since July, 2006, when he dislocated his money shoulder in a car accident, his taxi hit broadside when he was out one night in Miami on a food run.
Surgery was supposed to have Sanchez ready for last season, but he re-injured the shoulder in spring training and needed another operation.
Two shoulder operations in a year-and-a-half often mean the end of oneâ€™s career.
“I always believed I would pitch again,â€™â€™ Sanchez said after one of the most important innings of his career yesterday, a 26-pitch pain-free outing in an intra-squad game.
“I wasnâ€™t nervous,â€™â€™ he continued. “There was a lot of adrenalin. It had been a long time. To be able to go out there and pitch again was great.â€™â€™
In some way, would he call it a relief?
“Not in some way; in a big way,â€™â€™ Sanchez said. “This is a relief. Itâ€™s been so long I didnâ€™t even know how to step on the mound.â€™â€™
He sure knew what to do when he got there.
The first two hitters, Ramon Castro and Brian Schneider, reached on a bloop and a bleeder. A fielderâ€™s choice grounder put runners on the corners with one out.
In his role as a set-up man, this is a situation heâ€™ll face during the season. If not a double-play grounder, Sanchez would need a punch out, and he froze Fernando Martinez and Brahaim Maldonado on change-ups.
“He had a good fastball,â€™â€™ Martinez said, then shaking his head, added, “and a great change.â€™â€™
Watching on third base was Castro.
“When two guys got on you could see him bear down,â€™â€™ Castro said. “It was good to see.â€™â€™
The adrenalin that flowed during the inning bathed him with pure satisfaction when Maldonado went down.
“Right when the inning was done, thatâ€™s when I thought, `Iâ€™m ready to go,â€™ â€™â€™ said Sanchez.
Sanchez didnâ€™t mean physically, as his fastball clocked out at 90, about three miles less than what heâ€™ll throw in July. He said he would need about ten starts to get the fastball where it needs to be and sharpen the break on his other pitches.
Sanchez meant mentally, and his teammates could feel it.
“He brings a swagger back to our bullpen,â€™â€™ said David Wright.
A healthy Sanchez can be lights out in the eighth inning, and save Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman for the seventh.
Basically, if the starter goes six, Sanchez cuts the game by an inning and provides the Mets a depth they didnâ€™t have last summer, especially down the stretch.
“We understand what we lost when we lost him,â€™â€™ said Billy Wagner.
Pitching coach Rick Peterson said Sanchez has hurdled the main physical obstacles, and that itâ€™s all about fine-tuning.
“He threw a lot of strikes,â€™â€™ said Peterson. “He pitched ahead in the count. He threw a couple of good change-ups. He threw down in the zone.
“ He started this journey last spring. It was like walking across the desert step-by-step and today he finally got to the oasis.
“It was incredibly exciting for all of us.â€™â€™