Of all the injured Mets who had a chance of returning this season, seeing John Maine again was easily the most important.
Billy Wagner returned, showed he was healthy and sent the Red Sox. We are finally seeing Carlos Beltran, although he might still be gimpy. Mets doctors say Johan Santana and Oliver Perez should make successful recoveries from surgery and be ready for spring training.
Then again, that’s what they said about Maine.
Maine, on the disabled list since June 7 with a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder, will throw a simulated game tomorrow, and barring any complications, start the second game of Sunday’s double-header at Philadelphia.
“It feels good,’’ Maine told reporters yesterday. “Strength-wise, it’s not quite 100 percent. But as far as the pain, it’s just not there. I think with a good off-season, I’ll be able to put it behind me. It should go away and should be fine.’’
The operative word being off-season. If Maine somehow didn’t pitch again this year, the Mets would have nothing to evaluate and might opt to non-tender him a contract. The risk being somebody else would take a chance on him and he’d bounce back.
Personally, I think they’ll tender the contract anyway because the money is rather small and would be for one year, and because the Mets don’t have that many minor league options, and they are unlikely to splurge on the free-agent and trade markets. The inclination wildly spend is not there. Look on whom they passed last winter (Derek Lowe and Randy Wolf).
However, should Maine make it out of Sunday’s 60-pitch audition without difficulty, he should get three more starts before the end of the season. Four starts is roughly a short spring training, but it this case it might be enough for the Mets to start formulating some plans.
Maine has as much to gain as the Mets by pitching in September, because if he proves he’s healthy, and the Mets inexplicably don’t tender a contract, he would enter the free-agent market.
If the Mets are able to pencil in Maine for one rotation spot, it would eliminate one of the many headaches the Mets will have to contend with this winter.
Although there has been some discussion about putting Maine in the bullpen, I don’t see the Mets using this window for that kind of experiment.