At long last, Mets add Sanchez to fold

At long last, Mets add Sanchez to fold

NEW YORK -- He's a veteran, sure, but Duaner Sanchez still strolled around Shea Stadium's home clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon as if he had never before stepped inside. Some teammates got hugs. Others, high fives. Removed from the Mets for only two weeks to start the season, Sanchez still seemed a bit amazed by the ordinary.

"I haven't felt like this for about two years," he said. "It feels like my first day in the big leagues. It's pretty exciting right now. There are a lot of things going through my mind right now, but everything is just positive stuff."

The Mets activated Sanchez from the disabled list before Tuesday's game against the Nationals, clearing the way for their once prized setup man to see his first Major League action since 2006. Two right shoulder surgeries had since derailed his career, so when the Mets optioned fellow reliever Carlos Muniz to Triple-A New Orleans on Tuesday in order to clear out roster space, Sanchez's path back to relevance was complete.

"I'm really confident about what I do and how I pitch, and I feel ready," Sanchez said. "So we're just going to wait and see."

First injured in a taxi accident in July 2006, Sanchez underwent surgery to repair his separated right shoulder, missing the end of a season that saw him finish 5-1 with a career-best 2.60 ERA in 49 appearances. His return to the Mets appeared on schedule for the following season, before a hairline fracture of a bone in that same shoulder forced him to undergo a second operation. Sanchez spent all of the 2007 season in a rehabilitation program.

Though he returned to the Mets during this past Spring Training, his shoulder remained weak and the Mets, understandably cautious, did not rush him. Instead, they put a mark on their calendar for the middle of April, and set a corresponding goal for Sanchez: Once he could pitch in back-to-back games without trouble, he would rejoin the Mets.

Those outings came on Friday and Saturday with New Orleans, and he completed them both unscathed and uninjured. Done with being a Zephyr, Sanchez was again a Met.

"There are going to be a lot of things in the road, just like there had been the last few years," Sanchez said. "If there are things in the road, I'll kick them to the side and just keep walking through them, and keep working hard."

He's now passed every test the Mets have created for him. He's pitched one inning in back-to-back games and two innings in another, and done it all while feeling little more than "normal" soreness. Though he needed additional recovery time between outings at the onset of Spring Training, Sanchez will no longer follow that altered schedule. He'll pitch right away, and he'll pitch as often as manager Willie Randolph deems appropriate.

"I'm already here," Sanchez said. "There's no limitation when you're up here. If I'm here, I've got to be the same as everybody else."

Still, Randolph said he would exercise caution with his most fragile reliever -- a return to his old setup role won't be immediate. And Sanchez, for his part, noted that he won't yet boast the same levels of strength or endurance that he'll expect later this summer.

Not that it matters much for his psyche, which has recovered even better than his shoulder.

"I'm still excited right now," Sanchez said. "There are a lot of things going on right now, a lot of excitement. I'm just glad to be back here."

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