Johan Santana cruised through a 40-pitch simulated game this morning on the stadium field here at Tradition in preparation for Tuesday’s Grapefruit debut against the Astros.

Unlike the rest of the staff, Santana had not thrown a live batting practice shift. He prefers to pitch in game situations – even pretending during his bullpen sessions. And judging by the action on his pitches, especially the slider, Santana should be on schedule for the April 5 opener.

“The reason why I wanted to throw like this today,” Santana said, “is because I wanted to get in game-situation mode.”

The Mets sent up Rod Barajas and Josh Thole as the unlucky victims and neither made much contact. In fact, they rarely hit a ball in fair territory.

“His changeup is such a natural pitch,” Barajas said. “It looks like he could pick up a ball in December and be as good as anybody.”

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Santana is coming off season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and the procedure has made a huge difference. Santana now can fully extend his elbow, which enables him to better finish his pitches. It also has made his slider that much more effective.

“I feel that is has more speed and more break,” Santana said. “That’s something that it didn’t have last year.”