Mar 25

Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

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HOW MUCH IS SANTANA CAUSE OF HIS OWN PROBLEMS?

When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.

Mar 18

Wright, Santana, Murphy And Duda Among Mets’ Questions As Opening Day Looms

Here we are, two weeks from Opening Day and the Mets still have a myriad of questions that can’t be answered by Google. Perhaps they should get a Celebrity Apprentice from Trump to fill in the holes.

Jon Niese was superb in yesterday’s loss to the Braves and we know he’ll get the ball that first day against San Diego regardless of the Mets’ refusal to acknowledge anything negative about Johan Santana, who is among their many questions.

Q: What will the Mets get, and when, from Santana?

A: Considering it had been almost two weeks since his ill-fated mound attempt to quell the negativity from the Mets and media that Santana has done any significant throwing, it is anybody’s guess. Maybe next week, maybe the week after, but he will open the season on the disabled list regardless of his rate of denial. The Mets would dearly love to trade his $31 million contract, but the fact is they’ll have to eat over $20 million to do so. Might as well let him rest and hope for the best.

Q: Will David Wright open the season on the disabled list?

A: Technically, today is the third day of the three to five Wright will have to rest. He has received a cortisone injection in his strained ribs since coming back from the World Baseball Classic. Injuries of this type often last a month, as Wright learned last spring. Maybe he would have gotten hurt just the same in a regular spring training, but that doesn’t change the fact the odds are against Opening Day.

Q: How good is Matt Harvey?

A: He’s been good this spring, but has also thrown the occasional dud. He has ten major league starts on his resume, but the expectations of a proven veteran. The other teams have scouting reports, too, so don’t be shocked if he takes some lumps early.

Q: How healthy is Dillon Gee?

A: He says he has fully recovered from surgery to repair an artery in his pitching shoulder, but has been off this spring. He could use another three or four starts to get all the rust off, but there’s not enough time.

Q: What can the Mets expect from Shaun Marcum and fifth starter Jeremy Hefner?

A: Considering Marcum will not make six exhibition starts, don’t be too optimistic. At this rate, the Mets will be fortunate to get five innings from either of them. The back end of the rotation is clearly a weakness.

Q: Will Lucas Duda hit for power?

A: Let’s rephrase that: Will he substantially cut his strikeouts? He’s had a rough spring showing little of his power potential. When he hits them, he hits them far. Just not often enough.

Q: Who starts in center field?

A: Kirk Nieuwenhuis spit the bit early, and then was hurt. He was the projected starter and leadoff hitter, but now is ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Let’s hope that includes his bad habits at the plate. We’re looking at Collin Cowgill as the starter and Jordany Valdespin making the team. They can use Matt den Dekker’s defense, but want more from him at the plate.

Q: Will Daniel Murphy be ready?

A: Murphy had one of those “seven to ten days’’ rib injuries that has lasted a month. He played five innings of defense in a minor league game three days ago, but has been stiff since. The early word is Wednesday of this week, but we know how such projections go with the Mets. It is possible Valdespin will start at second while Justin Turner is at third Opening Day. Excited yet?

Q: What is the make-up of the bullpen?

A: Bobby Parnell is the closer and he’s taken some hits this spring. Josh Edgin is the lefty specialist, but Pedro Feliciano is making a run. He’s one of several veterans hoping to extend their careers with the Mets.

Q: Will they add anybody before the end of spring training?

A: Don’t count on it.

Mar 13

Johan Santana Celebrates Birthday By Talking

Twinkies could make a triumphant return this summer, but will Johan Santana? Hostess is selling the Twinkies brand, but the Mets can’t unload Santana so their best option is to hope he mends, then hope for the best.

SANTANA: Speaks on B-Day.

SANTANA: Speaks on B-Day.

Terry Collins already named Jonathan Niese the Opening Day starter if Santana can’t go, but isn’t ready to tell the veteran left-hander he’s not going to make it north with everybody else in April.

Santana, who celebrated his 34th birthday with a cake at the Mets complex in Port St. Lucie before the team went off to play the Washington Nationals, hasn’t been on the mound since he forced the issue seven days ago.

Santana said he’s not ready to set a date when he’ll return, and acknowledged rehabbing after each of his four seasons with the Mets has taken a toll. Last winter, he took it easy and was not happy when the Mets said he wasn’t in good shape. He also admitted age makes it difficult.

“I want to make sure that whenever that day is, I’m ready to go and good to go for the whole year and not just good for one game,’’ Santana told ESPNNewYork.com this morning. “Then two weeks later they have to shut me down. I don’t want that. I want to make sure that whenever I’m on the mound, I’m on the mound for good.

“As you get older, you have to work more. There’s no question about it. But you have to know yourself very well. That’s what I do. I’m listening to my body the whole time. When you need time, you take time to make sure you move forward. You don’t want a step back.’’

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Mar 12

Testy Johan Santana Acting Like Diva

It was a little over a week ago when the Mets pointed to March 14 as the target date for getting Johan Santana in an exhibition game. Doing so would have given him three, maybe four starts to be ready for Opening Day.

It won’t happen.

Outside of that ill-advised mound session, we haven’t seen, or heard, much from the testy lefty this spring. Today, he sniped at reporters who had the gall to try to talk to him – imagine that? – giving a curt response about not understanding the concept of an off day.

SANTANA: Rough times

SANTANA: Rough times

By definition, an off day is when no game is scheduled. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on. There was a reason why Santana was at the complex, just as there was a reason reporters were present.

At the time of the projection, Terry Collins said, “we’re not worried about April 1, we’re worried about 30 starts.’’

At this rate, it doesn’t look as if he’ll get either, even if Santana was pushed to the back of the rotation for the first cycle. Whether he’s ready or not, Santana’s last two exhibition starts would come against minor league competition, because if he were placed on the disabled list to the start the season the Mets could backdate it into spring training.

This reduces the time Santana would miss in the regular season although it is highly unlikely he would reach the 215 innings plateau needed to activate his 2014 option. I don’t know what the Mets are waiting for if not to placate Santana’s ego. He won’t be ready for the start of the season and the decision the Mets are avoiding is only inevitable.

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Mar 11

Jonathan Niese Sparkles Against Detroit

Jonathan Niese threw 4.2 scoreless innings this afternoon against the Tigers, begging the question: Why not just off call the charade with Johan Santana?

It is clear Santana won’t be ready for the start of the season, and the only possible result in rushing him is risk injury.

Terry Collins has already said Niese would replace Santana as the Opening Day starter and Jeremy Hefner will take his place on the roster if the veteran lefty isn’t ready.

The Mets are waiting for Santana to throw batting practice and in the bullpen before he gets in a game, and then, under normal circumstances make six exhibition starts until he stretches it 30 innings. Santana’s current timetable is to make four starts.

The Mets can’t deal Santana because of his $31 million contract, and their best value for him is for him to pitch as well as possible.

That begins with being healthy.

METS NOTES: Frank Francisco said he’s feeling fine after yesterday’s bullpen session. He said the next step is another bullpen in a day or two, “maybe,” he said. … Jenrry Mejia gave up one hit in a scoreless inning today against Detroit.