August 21, 2012
The Mets are 19 games out of first place in the NL East and 10.5 games out of a wild card spot. Any help Santana could provide for the rest of the year wouldn’t be enough. In simpler terms, the Mets are out of it.
Not many people expected Santana to make it this far. He missed the entire 2011 season after receiving reconstructive surgery on the anterior capsule of his left shoulder. The surgery was successful – more successful, in fact, than any of its kind performed on any other pitcher.
For example, Chien-Ming Wang, who had the same surgery, has never returned to his old form. Santana had a brilliant first half of the season. He was 6-5 with a 3.25 ERA with 2 complete-game shutouts, one of which was the first no-hitter in Mets history. In fact, after the no-hitter, Santana’s season ERA was a miniscule 2.38.
In that game on June 1st, he threw 134 pitches. Manager Terry Collins took a big risk leaving Johan and his surgically-repaired left shoulder in the game for that many pitches. Then again, it may have been more of a risk for Collins and the Mets to take him out after 7 innings with a no-hitter. Most people in baseball agree that Collins made the right decision.
Nonetheless, it weighed heavily on the skipper’s mind. He told the press after the game that if Santana starts feeling pain later in the year, he would never forgive himself.
The Mets gave Santana extra rest before his next start. He ended up getting slammed for 6 runs on 7 hits (4 of those hits were home runs) by the Yankees. Was it fatigue from throwing all those pitches? His velocity was 88-90 MPH, the same as it had been all year. His command was terrible – he was up in the strikezone with his changeup, and over the heart of the plate with his fastball. Perhaps it wasn’t fatigue, but rust from taking the extra rest in between starts.
He gave up 4 earned runs to the Tampa Bay Rays in his next start, then reeled off 3 impressive starts in a row, allowing only 2 earned runs in a combined 20 innings, lowering his season ERA to 2.76. Then, he hurt his ankle covering first base.
Since then, he has allowed 6 earned runs or more in each of his last 5 starts. He went to the disabled list to rest his ankle in the midst of this stretch, but he hasn’t shown signs of improvement on the mound.
His velocity remains the same – 88-92 in his last start against the Washington Nationals – but his command is still atrocious.
Now, according to the team, Johan’s back has been stiff his last couple of times out. He is due to get an MRI this week to see if it is something serious.
This situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of Pedro Martinez’s 2006 season with the Mets. With concern about his injured push-off toe in Spring Training, Pedro’s prospects weren’t very good following his 15-win season in 2005 with New York. But Martinez started the season hot, going 5-0 with a 2.94 ERA in April.
He continued to pitch well until June 22, compiling a 7-3 record with a 3.01 ERA. During that span, he had a very Pedro-like 110 strikeouts in 98.2 innings, despite his diminished velocity. He was throwing 88-90 MPH, much like Santana is now.
Then Martinez faced his old team in Boston. The Red Sox roughed him up for 6 earned runs in only 3 innings. He was never the same the rest of the year. His body began to betray him, until his well-used shoulder finally gave out.
After bouncing off and on the disabled list for most of the second half, he started a game in Pittsburgh on September 15th. The Pirates roughed him up and sent him to the dugout after only 3 innings. Pedro sat down, slumped his shoulders, and began to well up. He was a shell of his former self, frustrated that he could no longer perform the way he knew he once could.
Despite his comeback attempts, Martinez never fully recovered from his subsequent shoulder surgery.
Santana may not have the same fate in store for him. His recent struggles may simply be the grind of an entire season wearing on him, physically and mentally. It’s hard to skip a year, then try to go out and toss 200 innings. If the Mets were in a pennant race, it would make sense to continue to try.
But Johan Santana has already exceeded expectations as far as his health and durability is concerned. With the Mets already playing for next year, why not prepare Santana for next year by shutting him down? Risk no further injury this season, and let him rest, so he can come back strong once again for Opening Day 2013.