In watching Johan Santana toy with Cincinnati it was almost as if he were telling Mike Pelfrey, “Mike, this is how you do it.’’
While Santana isn’t as consistently dominant as he used to be, for one night he was as good as ever, throwing a three-hit shutout of the Reds, 3-0, with the game-winning run coming on his first career home run.
And in the ninth inning, after Jason Bay’s dropped pop-up in left, Santana told Jerry Manuel, “I‘ll finish it.’’
I’m willing to be those weren’t the exact words, something along the lines of “this is my game,’’ or to quote Dallas Braden’s T-Shirt, “get off my mound.’’
And, it was, from start to finish, when he struck out Joey Votto with one out and a runner on third in the first, to the ninth, when he needed only two of his 113 pitches after Jason Bay’s error to nail down the victory.
Santana was concerned about tipping his changeup during a four-start slump in which he gave up at least four runs in each. Santana would wiggle his glove when he reached in for the right grip. Santana lowered his hands and modified how he gripped the ball.
Also, as he continues his recovery from elbow surgery last September he’s building up his arm strength and consequently pumped up his fastball into the low 90s.
The result has been movement on the fastball, making it bite at the finish, which fooled Votto in the first. Jeff Francoeur said opponents have been taking swings the way he used to take swings at Santana.
Twelve strikeouts in his last two starts, both gems, offers proof and hope for the second half. Santana has always been a good second half pitcher, going 61-19 lifetime with a 2.73 ERA.
There’s nothing special about Santana’s current record, but his seven no-decisions speak volumes. With a little luck and run support, he could have a dozen wins by now.
Maybe he’ll get that dozen in the second half, which could make for a wonderful ride.