Sheffield may start in outfield Sunday

Sheffield may start on Sunday

CINCINNATI -- The Mets aren't expected to oppose a left-handed starting pitcher in their first two series. Nonetheless, Gary Sheffield may be in the batting order Sunday when the Mets play the final game of their three-game series against the Marlins. Jerry Manuel said as much Wednesday afternoon after he and third-base coach Razor Shines had run Sheffield through his paces in what the manager called a Spring Training outfielding drill.

Manuel had said last week that Sheffield might start against the Marlins, but that a start against the Padres in the first home series was more likely. Manuel doesn't appear to be rushing Sheffield, but he does appear to be intent on not using Ryan Church as often as Church was expected to play before the Mets signed Sheffield. Manuel even used the phrasing "committed to playing him in right" when he discussed Sheffield on Wednesday.

Sheffield was introduced to the 80-swings-in-six-minutes drill before he worked in the outfield. He said he was more winded from the batting drill than from the outfield running. Sheffield says he still doesn't anticipate playing as often as Manuel seems to indicate he will. Last week, general manager Omar Minaya suggested Sheffield could become the Mets' second successive Comeback Player of the Year Award winner -- Fernando Tatis won the honors for 2008 -- and Sheffield was a tad surprised.

Later, Minaya said he didn't expect Sheffield "to play more than 100-120 games." Those words were quite surprising to Church.

Notes: Manuel said he intends to start Alex Cora at second base and have Ramon Castro catch in the getaway game on Thursday afternoon. ... The manager removed Johan Santana from his first start after 99 pitches because Edwin Encarnacion, the ensuing hitter, hits Santana hard. But the pitch count may have had almost as much to do with the decision as the hitter. Manuel said Wednesday he wanted to keep all the starters' pitch counts at less than 100 if possible, particularly Santana's, the first time through the rotation. He noted he hopes to get each starter's count to the 115-120 range eventually. Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez combined to make 145 starts last season, and they reached 115 pitches 17 times -- eight times by Santana and four by Perez.

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