I can’t help but feel nervous every time Johan Santana takes the mound. Even after 10 innings of 1 run baseball, in which he struck out 13 batters, my optimism still had a heavy dose of caution. Last night, as I watched batter after batter reach base, my concern wasn’t about the score, but about Santana’s health.
Santana was in the middle of the zone and behind in the count all night. His velocity was consistent with his previous starts – 87-90, suggesting he was physically OK. But I couldn’t help being on pins and needles, waiting for a possible report of bad news from SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt after Johan left the game.
Drawing on his own experiences from the latter part of his career, Ron Darling speculated that Santana couldn’t get warmed up. After the game, however, Santana said he felt loose: “When I warmed up I felt fine.”
The bad start coincided with his return to Atlanta, which is where he made his ill-fated final start of 2010 – the start that put him on the shelf for over a year with a torn anterior capsule of the left shoulder. He said it was on his mind, even as he took the field:
“When I went to the bullpen, I pictured the whole thing,” Santana said. “And even when I walked in to the mound the first inning I pictured it. I looked at the rubber. I was like, ‘OK.’ But, again, I put it away. I just had another short outing here — again. Back to back. Hopefully the next one will be longer.”
In this quote, he says he “put it away.” But as uncomfortable as he looked, it’s easy to think the injury was on his mind. As Joe put it, it looked like he was throwing darts, or aiming the ball, which is something pitchers do when they aren’t loose. If Santana wasn’t loose, was it because he just couldn’t physically warm up, as Darling suggested, or did the lingering thought of September 2, 2010 tighten him up. Perhaps he was as tentative as I was watching him – and I was just sitting on my couch.
Santana is a positive man, and won’t make excuses for his performance, so we may never know for sure how he felt. But I would bet he’s happy to have last night’s start in his rear view mirror.
The good news is, according to everything we hear today from the Mets and Johan, he’s not injured, and on track to make his next start in Lower Downtown Denver, if “he’s strong enough,” according to Terry Collins.
In 2012, we’ll have to take Santana start-by-start and realize that every time he emerges healthy, it’s a victory.