Johan: Is Opening Day the Finish Line?

During yesterday’s TV broadcast of the Mets – Braves spring training game, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling discussed Johan Santana, with Cohen going so far as to suggest that Santana’s “comeback” might serve as a case study for pitchers who have similar surgery in the future. Darling followed that by half-joking that Randy Niemann might find himself in a medical journal. With all due respect, can we wait until Johan pitches at least an entire month without a setback before even suggesting such things? He’s been on a throwing schedule that is close to a regular season routine for maybe two weeks (if that); the time previous was merely getting into shape. I for one would like to see Johan pain-free and injury-free through at least mid-May before anyone starts talking about his “comeback” — and even then, it might be premature.

What this mentality suggests is that there is a general feeling among people around the Mets — fans, broadcasters, teammates, coaches, journalists, etc. — that Johan Santana pitching on Opening Day is an end goal rather than a beginning. Maybe it’s me and my own misperception, but it seems to me that people think that if Johan can somehow, some way, be healthy enough and ready enough to make the Opening Day start, that everything will fall into place and Santana will be healthy ever thereafter. In other words, Opening Day is the finish line for Johan, rather than the starting blocks. It’s kind of like how many people miss the point of a school graduation — which is usually described as “commencement ceremonies” because it’s supposed to signify the BEGINNING of the students’ next stage in life, rather than the ending of their school years. Likewise, if Johan Santana is able to toe the mound on Opening Day, it should be seen as the beginning of his road back — not the end.

I hope this doesn’t sound like me being “Debbie Downer” because that’s not my intention. Rather, I’d like to point out the reality of Santana’s rehabilitation, and brace people for the very real possibility of some kind of setback occurring once Johan begins following a true MLB routine — and to not freak out when and if that setback happens. In a perfect world, Johan will pitch Opening Day and then go on cruise control for the rest of 2012, making 32 starts without incident. And while I’m sure many people know that’s unlikely to happen, the feel-good warmth of spring in Port St. Lucie can pull at the heart strings of even the most stoic folks.

My point is this: let’s please allow Johan Santana’s comeback to occur before labeling it a comeback — and be prepared for and accepting of setbacks as part of that journey. It’s not fair to him to expect anything else.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DaveSchneck March 28, 2012 at 8:27 am
    Sorry to be agreeable, but you are spot on. So far so good, let’s hope for a Cy Young award but understand the likelihood of setbacks.
  2. Izzy March 28, 2012 at 8:43 am
    Another area of concern is that on an MLB interview Santana said he has no intention to change anything in his delivery. There were signs in his last start that things are going as well as the Mets want everyone to believe. Spped off, control off, maybe just another spring start buit most aces are using this week to show that they are ready. Hope its not 41 degrees on opening day.
  3. mikey March 28, 2012 at 8:44 am
    The problem is that everyone was comparing Santana to Wang or Prior. They are not Santana . His makeup along with his talent was what made him a great pitcher. Too often, we look for convenient boxes to put people in. Santana may not fit that box. Much like Beltran. How often did we hear last spring training the he would be lucky to play 100 games. He had an arthritic knee, it is bone on bone, doctors dont think he could play etc. He may have setbacks but the individual often determines his own comeback.
  4. Glenn March 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm
    I think you’re missing the point. Yes, the goal is for Santana to pitch as well as he can as often as he can, but he cannot pitch 34 games in one fell swoop. Any large goal has several smaller intermediate goals. The first goal is for Santana to go out and pitch Opening Day. That is an important goal, and it should be the focus. After he makes that, then he’ll make a new goal, like reach 100 pitches in a game. After that, you make another goal. No one is or should say Santana is all the way back. He is not. He is on his way, and the first signpost on that journey is Opening day. The excitement is just because four months ago even that looked doubtful.
    • Mike B March 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm
      Sorry Glenn but I think you are missing the point, small goals to get to your long term goal is fine. But I think the point Joe was trying to make was too much is being celabrated on that very first goal rather then waiting until the long term goal to pop the champagne.

      I am not as excited about Santana’s goals, since all we are doing is rehabing him another MLB team.

  5. NormE March 28, 2012 at 2:14 pm
    I hate to usurp Joe J.’s “Debbie” title, but if Johan does bounce back without injury he’ll probably be traded to a contender sometime this summer.
    • Joe March 29, 2012 at 9:54 am
      I wonder what the team would get in return.