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Mets' Maine has return from DL pushed back

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BALTIMORE - Conflicting reports from Port St. Lucie left the return date uncertain for John Maine, who was expected to come off the disabled list next Tuesday. Maine completed a 60-pitch bullpen session Thursday at the Mets' spring-training facility, where rehab coordinator Guy Conti told reporters that Maine still felt a pinch in the back of his shoulder.

While it was not described as painful, Maine is on the DL with what the Mets are calling a "tired shoulder" and he also received a cortisone shot last week to help in the rehab process. In Baltimore, team officials denied that Maine suffered a setback, but acknowledged he would not immediately return from the DL on his first day of eligibility.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen spoke with Conti and was not told of any physical issues. "He said he was rusty," Warthen said.

Maine is scheduled to throw another session tomorrow but he will not be ready for his next turn in the rotation, which would be Wednesday. Fernando Nieve will again start in Maine's place for tonight's opener of a three-game series against the Rays at Citi Field.

"With the way things have gone, I'm almost kind of hardened," Jerry Manuel said. "It's like OK, we still have to keep going."

The Mets did get positive news on Oliver Perez, who threw three scoreless innings in an intrasquad game in Port St. Lucie. Perez, who has been on the DL since May 7 with patellar tendinitis, threw 48 pitches and the knee seemed to hold up. He's scheduled to pitch Tuesday.

"I felt really good," Perez told The Associated Press. "I'm a little tired because it's hot, but I feel strong. I threw three innings, and I was using all my pitches . . . I'm happy I had good command, and I was throwing a lot of strikes."

Extra bases

With Gary Sheffield getting six straight games at DH, Manuel said he would look at the matchups this weekend before deciding how much he would play upon returning to left. Sheffield said the break has significantly helped his knee.

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