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03/31/07 8:04 PM ET

Notes: Sanchez to start season on DL

Reigning NL batting champ must shake off the rust

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Freddy Sanchez will begin the season on the disabled list, the Pirates announced Saturday. While the news was not all that surprising, the reason for it may have been.

"It's not so much the knee. I don't feel good at the plate," said Sanchez, who's been battling a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee since March 6. "I don't feel like I'd be able to go in there in the bottom of the ninth against [Astros reliever Brad] Lidge and have a good, quality at-bat."

And so Sanchez was placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 23. He'll be eligible to return after the first four games of the season, on April 7 in Cincinnati.

Sanchez twisted his knee while turning a double play against the Phillies nearly a month ago, and general manager Dave Littlefield had said that once his starting second baseman was able to run the bases comfortably, he'd let Sanchez defend his National League batting crown.

Recently, Sanchez has been garnering about eight at-bats each day during Minor League contests, as well as all the requisite field work, but he still doesn't feel quite up to speed at the plate.

So, as his teammates boarded buses bound for the baseball game or the airport, Sanchez stayed in Bradenton on Saturday to get some extra at-bats against Pirates starter Tony Armas. He'll travel to Triple-A Indianapolis, which begins play Thursday, and work in games there until he sees fit. Although he can be activated off the DL on April 7, Sanchez wasn't optimistic about returning to the Pirates by then, pointing instead toward the team's home opener April 9 against the world champion St. Louis.

"If Indy's season opened Sunday or Monday, then, yeah, I definitely could see [being ready Saturday]," he said. "But I'll only have Thursday and Friday to get between the lines and play hard and get six at-bats. It all depends on how my swing feels."

Roster set: Placing Sanchez on the DL allowed the team to keep each of the players whose position on the roster were in question down the stretch, including first baseman Brad Eldred and catchers Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit.

Eldred came back in grand fashion from a torn ligament in his left thumb that sidelined him for all but 18 games in 2006. The 26-year-old hit for a .313 average (20-for-64) in a team-high 26 Grapefruit League games, added team-highs in doubles (seven), homers (six) and walks (11), and drove in 13 runs.

Cota, 28, hit .375 in Spring Training, with two doubles and 12 RBIs. Doumit hit .267, was hit by a team-topping four pitches and showed a much-improved defense behind the plate.

And that's a wrap: Pittsburgh closed out the preseason with a 6-4 loss to Minnesota, but Pirates manager Jim Tracy remained optimistic that the game was a good final tune-up heading into the season opener at Houston.

"The people that needed their work today got their work," he said. "And even as the game unfolded, down to the last day you still see things being done correctly. In short, I feel very, very good about the fact that you're out of Spring Training as healthy as you can possibly be. Freddy and John [Grabow] are the two exceptions, but we're not the only club that's starting without a couple of guys."

Up next: Pittsburgh has a day off Sunday before opening its season at Houston. Left-hander Zach Duke will get the ball for the Pirates, and he'll face righty Roy Oswalt. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.