Mets hold back Sheffield for now

Flushing, NY - Saturday, August 1, 2009. Mets

Flushing, NY - Saturday, August 1, 2009. Mets vs. Diamondbacks at Citi Field. Gary Sheffield sitting on the end of the bench during the game. Photo by David Pokress Photo Credit: Freelance/Photo by David Pokress

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PHOENIX - After a season's worth of questionable medical decisions, the Mets appear to have drawn the line with Gary Sheffield, who was kept out of last night's series opener against the Diamondbacks after a 35-minute closed-door meeting with Jerry Manuel.

Sheffield, 40, has missed four straight games after reinjuring his right hamstring during Wednesday's matinee at Citi Field. But that's not what makes his case different from the rest of the walking wounded on the team's casualty list.

Sheffield was tentatively scheduled to return at some point over the weekend in San Diego, and when that passed, Manuel sounded like he definitely was a go for last night's game at Chase Field.

But now that the Mets are acknowledging Sheffield has indeed suffered a hamstring strain -- not merely cramps -- they finally seem reluctant to rush one of their injured players back before he's ready.

"Yeah, I think so," Sheffield said, "because when you get hit a couple times the way we've been hit, with the type of players that's out, it affects you. And in the long term, it weighs on you, and I think it's getting to that point."

It only took until Aug. 10, following an avalanche of criticism about the 10 players on the Mets' disabled list. The front office dragged its feet on Sheffield when he first suffered the hamstring injury July 17 in Atlanta, only the injury was described at the time as cramps from dehydration.

When Sheffield never improved enough to play - in the team's mind, anyway - the Mets put him on the DL on July 25. That decision did not sit well with Sheffield, who had a lengthy discussion with Manuel that day in Houston. But as he's struggled again to get on the field, Sheffield has become more patient, and that's what he took out of Monday's chat with Manuel.

"We talked about going forward with my leg and what's probably best for the team," Sheffield said. "Basically, I just have to wait it out and just tell myself I have to give it enough time for it to heal, I guess, to really, really be sure.

"I call it a cramp, but they call it a strain and hamstrings are tricky. The way I feel now, I can play. And then I get in the game, and when you have to walk off the field, it sets you that far back within the team."

Sheffield was expected to test himself again before last night's game, and if he emerges from those drills without any problems - and no residual soreness - Manuel plans to clear him to start Tuesday night. Once that happens, Sheffield could be auditioning for teams that may deal for him before the Aug. 31 deadline, the last day for a player to be eligible for the postseason roster.

"I don't want to think about that right now," Sheffield said. "I really don't. Because it's one of those things the way I feel about that now, it might change, for the good or the bad when it happens, so I don't know. My preference is to stay here because one more team, I just don't want to go through that."

Sheffield also plans on playing beyond this season, but these nagging hamstring issues could scare away potential suitors. He's certainly been productive for the Mets, batting .286 with a team-leading 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 79 games. He believes that can continue.

"I just know that I've already shown that," Sheffield said. "If it's a matter of you saying, 'Can I play every day?' that's when my offseason conditioning is going to kick in. I still can hit 30 home runs. I know that for a fact. On a winning ballclub, I still can be that middle- of-the-order guy."

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