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El Duque encouraged about injured foot after bullpen session

NEW YORK -- Orlando Hernandez threw a pain-free bullpen
session Tuesday that left him very encouraged about his injured
right foot.

One day after the boot protecting his sore foot was removed, El
Duque worked off a mound at Shea Stadium and estimated he threw
50-60 pitches. The New York Mets' right-hander said he used all his
pitches and felt no pain at all.

"I threw very good today," he said.

Asked if his command was good, a smiling and enthusiastic
Hernandez said: "Yes! A no-hitter!"

If he feels OK on Wednesday, the next step is for El Duque to
pitch a simulated game Thursday. But it's unclear if he could
return to the rotation or pitch in relief before the regular season
ends Sunday.

"We don't even know if he's going to pitch," New York manager
Willie Randolph said. "Right now, I'm not looking at where he
might fit in. Until he's healthy and ready to go, he's not really
in the mix for me."

The Mets, who lost to the Nationals 10-9, had their magic number trimmed to four for clinching the NL East title when second-place Philadelphia lost 10-6 to Atlanta. The Mets remained two games ahead of the Phillies with five to play. New York is trying to lock up their second consecutive
division title, which would be a franchise first, but it's been a
struggle of late.

Hernandez hasn't pitched since giving up six hits and a
season-high eight runs over three-plus innings in a 13-5 loss to
Atlanta on Sept. 11. He has worked just six-plus innings since Aug.
26.

The 41-year-old Hernandez, an outstanding postseason pitcher
throughout his major league career, is 9-5 with a 3.75 ERA this
season. He missed the playoffs last year with a torn right calf
muscle.

"He could play an important role. But right now you can only
count on the guys who are ready to go," Mets general manager Omar
Minaya said. "We definitely are not going to put him in a
situation where he's not 100 percent ready to go."