Aug 11

Which Johan Santana Shows Up Tonight?

Watching Johan Santana pitch this season has been much like reading the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde. A twisting tale of the agony and ecstasy in the duality that some say exists in all of us. Although not quite as extreme, the concept is not lost on what has been s strange season for the Mets left-handed ace.

Leading up to and including his date with Mets history and lore on June 1st, Santana was on top of the baseball world as he led the Mets with a 2.38 ERA and subdued any talk that he was on the decline after an 18 month recovery from anterior capsular surgery in his left shoulder. The Mets ace was back and had once again become an intimidating presence on the mound – capped off by tossing his 131-pitch no-hitter, the first in Mets franchise history.

However, that night would become a turning point to the season for Santana and just like that a change set in that transform him and his performance into the antithesis of what we had come to expect.

After June 1, the former Cy Young award winner was suddenly in the throws of a pitching slump – unquestionably the worst stretch of his career. In his next eight starts, Santana pitched to an unsightly 6.54 ERA, The swagger was gone, the confidence at a season low, and the dugout whispers suddenly turned into worries and a deep and abiding concern. The Mets say an ankle injury was the cause and soon the southpaw was placed on the DL which seemed like a good excuse to give his seemingly dead arm some much needed rest. Hey, whatever it takes, right?

That said, Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal offers up an encouraging report on Johan Santana who will take the mound tonight against the rival Atlanta Braves. Fresh off Santana’s three inning rehab start in Brooklyn, pitching coach Dan Warthen spoke with Costa and if he’s right, we may see the crafty lefthander who thrilled us for the first two months of the season:

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said the difference was evident in Santana’s overall demeanor. “There were four or five starts where it just wasn’t Johan,” Warthen said. “He generally lights up a room. He has enough energy to light up this whole city on game day.” After the no-hitter, Warthen said, “He was having the kind of energy that would light up a 20-watt bulb.” The fatigue led to reduced arm speed, Warthen said, which led to lapses in control. Santana initially dismissed the ankle injury. But two more dreadful outings convinced the Mets he needed a breather. Now, they will find out if it was enough.

Santana’s fastball hit 90 miles per hour during a rehab start in Brooklyn last weekend, a benchmark he hadn’t reached in a while. “I think you will see pretty much what you saw early in the season the rest of the year,” Warthen said. “I think we’ll see 87 to 90 miles per hour. I think we’ll see better control. But I think you’re going to see a stronger, probably more consistent high-end velocity guy next year. I don’t think you’re going to see the whole Santana package until next year.”

Maybe this journey in duality will have a much happier ending than the one in Stevenson’s classic did.

NOTE: John had to have emergency surgery on Thursday and will be hospitalized until Sunday. Please wish him a speedy recovery and in the meantime I’ll post here in the interim.