Maine nearing return to game action

Maine nearing return to game action

DENVER -- With 12 Mets on the disabled list, including at least five who are out for the year, the prospect of getting players back in September remains an appealing opportunity for manager Jerry Manuel. There may be little to play for as far as the standings are concerned, but Manuel believes there is much to be gained by getting players a chance to get back up to big league game speed before heading into the offseason.

The latest piece of good news comes from Port St. Lucie, Fla., where John Maine has been throwing live batting practice and bullpen sessions and is close to being ready for game action.

"From what I hear, I think all signs so far tend to make you think in that direction that he possibly could get a couple starts here at some point," Manuel said of the potential to see Maine back with the Mets before the season ends. "We have to be careful with that, because we've been so close before, and we've had some setbacks. The latest is that he's still on track and making good progression."

Maine went on the DL on June 12 with right shoulder weakness, and was 5-4 with a 4.52 ERA in 11 starts when he went down. Though there is little to be gained for the current season by rushing Maine back, if his rehab progresses to the point that he can return and show he is healthy and effective, it will go a long way toward helping the Mets evaluate where they are from a pitching perspective as they go into the offseason.

"For me, personally, I would like to see him back," Manuel said about Maine's potential return in September. "Then I don't have to go to Spring Training with a lot of different questions. I'd rather go into spring with everybody in place, and then put a plan in place and then go forward. I don't want to go into spring trying to figure out who is or who is not able and available. I would like to see him up here."

One minor wrinkle is that Maine's rehab may not synchronize well with Minor League schedules, which are winding down quickly. Manuel had no reservations about seeing Maine come straight to the Majors without a Minor League tune-up, despite nearly three months out of commission.

Heading into an arbitration-eligible year, Maine remains one of the most effective members of the rotation over the past three seasons since his callup to the Mets in May of 2006, following an offseason trade from the Orioles. He helped the Mets make the playoffs in 2006, throwing 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball in a National League Division Series start and earning a win while making two NL Championship starts. He followed that up with 15 wins in 2007 and 10 wins in 2008, when he spent the final six weeks of the season on the DL with a bone spur in his right shoulder. He had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder on September 30.

"He can definitely compete at this level when he's right, we've seen that," Manuel said, stressing that his durability is not currently a concern. "He pitched for us in a playoff game his first year. If we can get him healthy, that would be a big plus for us, a big boost for our rotation."

Owen Perkins is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.