Two and a half years removed from a taxicab incident that sidelined him for the entire 2007 season, Duaner Sanchez is looking to prove that he can once again be one of the best relievers in baseball.
In 2006, Sanchez played a critical role in helping the Mets achieve their first division title in 18 years. After an emotional return on April 15, 2008, Sanchez got off to a hot start, during which he didn't allow a single earned run in his first seven appearances and sprayed just two hits over 6.2 innings of relief work.
Duaner Sanchez was back.
However, as the season dragged on, fatigue became more visible as his fastball dropped from the low 90s to the mid 80s (it was in the mid- to upper 90s in 2006), thus reducing the effectiveness of his changeup and slider. Any pitching coach will tell you velocity is key to success.
Despite the few large bumps in the road, Sanchez was one of two relievers that was somewhat consistent in 2008. Other than RHP Joe Smith (traded to CLE in three-way deal for J.J. Putz), Duaner was the only guy the Mets could put any amount of trust in during late game situations.
To put it more simply, let's not be too quick in criticizing this guy's performance last season, especially given everything he has been through in the past couple of years.
His 2008 Statistics: 66 G, 5-1, 4.32 ERA, 44 SO, 59.1 IP, 1.320 WHIP
The Mets cannot afford to wait yet another season for his arm to regain its 2006 form. It needs to happen now.
In 2009, Sanchez will be under the instruction of the Mets' new pitching coach, Dan Warthen, whose name is mentioned in almost all rundowns of New York pitchers this season (and for a good reason). Warthen, who already has his hands full with a core of young pitchers, will definitely look to get this once-hard-throwing righty back in shape.
Whether or not Sanchez can maintain his stamina for the entirety of the season and not let his fastball drop off the radar is uncertain. The only thing that may be certain right now is that this is his last chance.
2009 Prediction: 62 G, 3-2, 3.35 ERA, 41 SO, 54.2 IP, 1.285 WHIP