Johan Santana wishes Venezuela well, but has catching up to do

Johan Santana looks on during a spring training

Johan Santana looks on during a spring training workout at Tradition Field. (Feb. 13, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Johan Santana made his way to the foul ground in front of the visiting dugout Wednesday, where members of Venezuela's star-studded national team began their pregame stretching.

He hugged former Mets teammate Francisco Rodriguez and joked with American League MVP Miguel Cabrera.

At one time, he had hoped to join his countrymen for the World Baseball Classic. And as Wednesday's 14-10 victory over the Mets showed, Venezuela's loaded lineup might benefit from a little bit of help on the mound.

But little has gone according to plan this spring for Santana, who wished his friends well, then retreated to a back field to continue work on his throwing program. The Mets believe he'll be ready to pitch in games in a week, though he worked well short of full intensity during a brief bullpen session.

"Certainly, if he was able, he wanted to play,'' said manager Terry Collins, who joined Santana in greeting the Venezuelans. "As it turned out, he wouldn't have been able to pitch for them anyway.''

The Mets blocked Santana from participating in the WBC, exercising their right to do so because he finished last season on the disabled list. But Santana also rendered the decision a moot point when he showed after two throwing sessions that his shoulder wasn't in pitching condition.

"He's supposed to pitch today for me?'' Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo joked as Collins walked by. "What happened, huh?''

Santana didn't address reporters Wednesday, though Sojo said the pitcher expressed disappointment about not pitching for his national team.

"I think right now he's very sad because he's got a very good relationship with the players and they're always talking about it,'' Sojo said. "In his case, it was at the last minute that they made the decision for him not to participate. But I know how they feel.''

Indeed, Santana faced more pressing matters, long tossing on the field before meeting pitching coach Dan Warthen on a back field for his light bullpen session. Warthen did the catching, though Santana didn't throw hard enough to warrant wearing catcher's gear. The pitcher also fielded ground balls before wrapping up the session.

"He's happy with the way he feels,'' Collins said. "He's happy with the way he's throwing right now so I think again it's a major step forward for us.''

To pitch in a Grapefruit League game, Santana must show he can throw off a pitcher's mound at full intensity, then graduate to facing hitters in batting practice. If he sticks to the rough schedule the Mets have mapped out for him, Collins said the lefthander should be ready to make his spring debut next Thursday or Friday.

"I think he's going to make that,'' Collins said, though he cautioned once more that with Santana, the schedule is subject to change.

Even if Santana pitches in a game within the week, the Mets' schedule likely would permit only three spring training starts for Santana before the start of the regular season. But Collins indicated that the emphasis with Santana is less on him making his Opening Day start, and more on his long-term health.

If that's the case, the Mets could theoretically push Santana back in the rotation, or perhaps place him on the disabled list retroactively to start the season.

"We're not worried about April 1,'' Collins said. "We're worried about 30 starts.''

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