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Sanchez is still in limbo

NL batting champ has sprained knee

RYAN HOWARD Not exactly his day RYAN HOWARD Not exactly his day

National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez may begin this season in the same place he was on Opening Day last year: on the Pirates' bench.

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

"I don't know," Sanchez said yesterday. "There's no timetable, none at all. We have to wait and see what happens."

Sanchez is hitting, fielding ground balls, and running straight ahead but can't run the bases at full speed. Until he can, Sanchez won't get the at-bats he needs to prepare for the season.

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.

If Sanchez can run by the middle of the week, he still might have time to be ready for the opener at Houston April 2.

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.

Sanchez 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.

Howard not happy
Ryan Howard is treating a spring training slump like a playoff collapse. The reigning NL MVP clearly showed his frustration before ending an 0-for-17 skid with a single in the fifth inning of Philadelphia's 10-2 win over Minnesota in Clearwater, Fla. Howard uncharacteristically snapped at a writer before the game, loudly proclaiming it was "Ryan Howard Day" and said he would resume doing interviews today. He's batting just .231 (12 for 52) with two homers and nine RBIs this spring . . . Another Yankees starter was shut down with injury concerns. Righthander Jeff Karstens left the New York-Detroit game after two innings because of stiffness in his right elbow. He is the third Yankee starter in a week bitten by the injury bug, following Chien-Ming Wang (hamstring) and Andy Pettitte (back spasms) . . . Gary Sheffield hit a three-run homer to help the Tigers beat his former Yankee teammates, 9-5, in Lakeland, Fla. . . . Yankee skipper Joe Torre said he's leaning toward batting Bobby Abreu third in the order . . . Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds (shoulder, toe surgeries) took a big leap toward being ready for Opening Day, playing in his first spring training game . . . Dodgers manager Grady Little named Brett Tomko his fifth starter . . . Tomo Ohka allowed one run over five innings, improving his chances of winning the fourth spot the Blue Jays' rotation with a 3-2 victory over the Reds in Dunedin, Fla. . . . Kerry Wood failed to protect a seventh-inning lead, giving up three runs and allowing the Angels to beat the Cubs, 3-2, in Mesa, Ariz. For the spring, Wood has pitched five innings, giving up seven hits, seven runs, and two homers . . . Giants manager Bruce Bochy left the club to attend his mother's funeral in Melbourne, Fla. Melrose Bochy, 78, died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.