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Knee injury might sideline Pirates' Sanchez

BRADENTON, Fla. -- NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez may
begin this season in the same place he was on Opening Day last
year: on the Pittsburgh Pirates' bench.

Sanchez, out since March 6 with a sprained ligament in his right
knee, still can't play and the Pirates are weighing whether he
should go on the disabled list, even if it is for only a week.


"I don't know," Sanchez said Sunday. "There's no timetable,
none at all. We have to wait and see what happens. We have to see
where we're at and what we're going to do."


Sanchez is hitting and fielding ground balls but can't run at
full speed. Until he is, Sanchez can't get the at-bats he needs,
not even as a designated hitter in a minor league game.


The injury, which occurred as Sanchez turned a double play at
second base in an exhibition game against the Phillies, has
lingered much longer than the Pirates and Sanchez thought it would
and has forced him to miss nearly three weeks of game action.


"Running the bases is still what he has a little bit of
reservation about," manager Jim Tracy said. "He did all of his
work -- he turned double plays, he did straight-ahead type running.
When Freddy gets to the point where has no mental reservation about
what he is trying to do, we'll be ready to move forward. But you
have to listen to what the player is saying, especially this
player."


If Sanchez can run by the middle of the week, he still might
have time to be ready for the opener at Houston on April 2. He
could get 8 to 10 at-bats a day for three or four days in the minor
league camp, which might be enough to get him readjusted to facing
live pitching.


But general manager Dave Littlefield said Sunday that with
spring training winding down -- the team breaks camp next Saturday --
the Pirates must begin considering alternatives. If Sanchez can't
go, former starting second baseman Jose Castillo likely would start
there on Opening Day after spending most of camp at third base.


"You always have to consider both ends, and it's easier to deal
with the end that goes well, but you have to be prepared for the
situation that doesn't go well," Littlefield said.


The Pirates could place Sanchez on the disabled list when camp
ends and backdate it nine days, but he would still miss the first
week of the season against Houston and Cincinnati.


Sanchez, a onetime Boston Red Sox farmhand who was dealt to
Pittsburgh in 2003, began last season as a utility infielder but
played his way into the lineup at third base within a month. He
went on to hit .344 with six homers and 85 RBIs, beating out
Florida's Miguel Cabrera by five points to win the Pirates' first
National League batting title since Bill Madlock did so in 1983.


Sanchez, 29, missed two-thirds of the 2004 season with a bone
spur in his right ankle that caused him to spend nearly three
months in the Pirates' extended spring training camp. If he is not
ready for Opening Day, he may remain in Bradenton to play in minor
league games until he is able to rejoin the Pirates.


John Grabow, expected to be one of two left-handed relievers in
the Pirates' bullpen, remains bothered by an inflamed elbow and may
also start the season on the disabled list. Grabow hasn't pitched
since March 11 and, if he isn't ready, probably would be replaced
by Juan Perez.