Back In The Fold

Oft-injured Humberto Sanchez is eyeing a June return



NEW YORK—At first glance, it appeared the trade that sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers had benefited neither team.

A bum shoulder that required surgery following the 2007 season has affected Sheffield as he's struggled this season.

Righthander Humberto Sanchez, the key for the Yankees, had Tommy John surgery in April 2007. Righthanders Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett pitched respectably in the minors last year, but Whelan experienced elbow problems this spring and Claggett had hamstring trouble.

However, Sanchez believes he will be available to help in the major league bullpen this season.

"Oh yeah, that's my goal, to come back healthy and help the team," Sanchez said after throwing a bullpen at the Rays' Tropicana Field in front of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland. "I will be in the bullpen this summer."

Sanchez, who spends his days at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, has targeted June 10 as the date he will pitch in a rehab game. But bear in mind that Sanchez has been on the disabled list seven times since 2004.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Sanchez appeared heavier at the end of spring training, but when he surfaced in the Yankees' clubhouse in May he looked to be in better shape.

The Yankees understood Sanchez, 25, had elbow issues when they made the deal, but they couldn't overlook his mid-90s fastball. Initially, they viewed him as a starter, but that has changed for now.

"At this stage, that's the plan," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We aren't closing the door on anything."

Yet, if Sanchez impresses as a reliever, he could move into Joba Chamberlain's eighth-inning role next season, when Chamberlain likely will shift to the rotation.


• Righthander Mark Melancon was promoted to Double-A Trenton. He missed all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery.

• Whelan was shut down last season in the Arizona Fall League with an elbow problem, and he was working his way back slowly with high Class A Tampa. Claggett battled a hamstring problem in spring training, but he was back pitching with Trenton.