Mets look to trade Wagner

NEW YORK -- Billy Wagner's perfect return to the mound came at the expense of Livan Hernandez.

The comeback of the New York Mets former closer wasn't a surprise, but the fact that it cost Hernandez his spot on the club caught a few teammates off-guard.

Johan Santana showed up at Citi Field on Thursday and had no idea Hernandez had been released. Along with most of his teammates, the ace left-hander was in the dark about Gary Sheffield's unhappiness regarding his contract, too.

None of that affected the performance of Wagner, who was activated from the disabled list before Thursday's game against the Atlanta Braves and struck out two in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss.

The 38-year-old Wagner was expected to miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Sept. 10, but he recovered quickly and even reached 96 mph with his fastball.

"Getting back after 11 months, facing that caliber of hitter, raises the bar a little," Wagner said. "I made some pitches that were up, maybe next time I'll have better control. It worked out tonight, but that's not the way it's going to be. I've got to keep the ball down."

The outing was likely an audition for Wagner, who has 385 career saves. The Mets reportedly have placed him on waivers, although he's unlikely to be claimed because he has $2.6 million remaining of his $10.5 million salary for this season, and a $1 million buyout for 2010.

If he's not claimed, the Mets could try to trade him beginning Friday.

To make room for Wagner, the Mets released Hernandez, who was 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA and had been especially poor over his last three starts, allowing 18 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings.

Manager Jerry Manuel said Tim Redding will make a spot start Saturday against Philadelphia. With the Mets well out of playoff contention in a season wrecked by injuries, Manuel said it's also possible the club will look at some young arms after rosters expand Sept. 1.

"From a manager's point of view, I probably always want to see youth at this point, but it has to be the right timing," Manuel said. "The player development people have to say a young player will come into this situation and not be hurt by it."

The Mets could also be looking to deal Sheffield, who reportedly was rebuffed Thursday by general manager Omar Minaya when he asked about a contract extension for next season.

Sheffield was on Manuel's original lineup card, but was replaced by Cory Sullivan about 3 hours before the first pitch. Manuel said it was Sheffield's decision not to play.

"I spoke with Gary earlier today, and he said he needed to work out a few things, personal or whatever," Manuel said. "I didn't get into it with him, but I said, 'OK. If you need a day, you got it.' I asked him if he would be available to win it for me if I needed him, he said, 'Sure, no problem.' And that's the way it was."

Sheffield struck out as a pinch hitter with a runner aboard in the eighth inning, and quickly ducked out of the clubhouse after the game.

"Just for the best today," Sheffield said before the start, when asked why he'd been taken out of the lineup. "It's just the best thing to allow somebody else to play."

Upon returning to the clubhouse after batting practice, Sheffield joked, "I'm still here."

In other news, versatile infielder Alex Cora had surgery on his right thumb and showed up at Citi Field wearing a cast. Cora plans to have surgery on his left thumb in about four weeks, but had the right hand operated on first so he could begin throwing.

Left-hander Oliver Perez, who has been dealing with a sore right knee, had a short throwing session before the game and pronounced himself fit to start Sunday against former teammate Pedro Martinez and the Phillies.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Perez said. "I can pitch Sunday and I'm ready to go."