El Duque says he can pitch if Mets reach Series

Updated: October 17, 2006, 2:03 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- If the New York Mets reach the World Series, they might get a major boost on the mound from Orlando Hernandez.

Starting Pitcher
New York Mets

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Sidelined by a torn muscle in his right calf, El Duque threw 72 pitches during an encouraging bullpen session Sunday and could be back in time for the Fall Classic if New York gets past the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.

"It's certainly a possibility, absolutely," pitching coach Rick Peterson said Monday. "Felt great, no discomfort, threw the ball well, commanded his pitches well. He's been throwing all along -- very gingerly because of the leg, but he feels great."

El Duque was scheduled to start New York's Division Series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers until he hurt a calf while jogging in the outfield the day before Game 1. At that point, he was expected to miss the entire postseason.

The Mets also are without injured pitcher Pedro Martinez, so they've been scrambling to find reliable starters in the playoffs, and Hernandez acknowledged it's been extremely difficult to sit back and watch knowing he was unable to help.

But the right-hander, a postseason stalwart throughout his big league career, was excited and surprised by how quickly his leg has recovered.

"Now I can dance," a cheerful El Duque said. "I threw every pitch. I think I'm ready for next week."

The crafty Hernandez was acquired from Arizona in May and has a ton of October experience. He is 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 career postseason games, including 14 starts, mostly with the Yankees. He also owns four World Series rings, and his teams are 12-3 in postseason series.

So if the Mets advance to play the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, could manager Willie Randolph count on El Duque to start in Game 1?

"Willie give, I take," Hernandez said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press