CHICAGO -- In the wee hours of June 2, Terry Collins fretted about his decision the night before to let Johan Santana throw 134 pitches to complete the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Collins worried he had jeopardized Santana's future health and success in exchange for one game -- even if it was perhaps the most important regular-season game in franchise history.
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The Mets gave Santana a week off before his next start and he still got rocked by the Yankees, his pitches lacking life. The idea that his surgically repaired left shoulder had been damaged by the milestone outing fermented in Collins' brain.
It wasn't until three starts later -- Monday night against the Cubs -- that Collins said he felt comfortable that Santana had survived the no-hitter with his shoulder and future intact.
"I just talked to him about some stuff," Collins said Tuesday night before the Mets-Cubs game. "He said, 'Look, I just want you to know I feel really good.' So those are all really good signs that we could start to relax and use him how you'd use any pitcher."
Santana was the losing pitcher Monday in the Mets' 6-1 defeat. But he allowed only two runs in six innings (102 pitches) and could have gone longer if he hadn't been removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh.
"As a matter of fact," Collins said, " Dan [Warthen] and I -- I think about the fifth inning -- we said, 'Look, we're looking at 115, 120 [pitches].' Which means he's fine. He could have certainly gone back out there."
Since the no-hitter, Santana is 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA. But in his last two outings, he has given up two earned runs in 12 innings. Overall, he is 5-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 15 starts.
The Mets have been ultracareful with Santana after he missed the entire 2011 season. Collins said Tuesday night he doesn't plan to back him off or skip him or do anything else other than monitor his workload as he would any pitcher.
He is on pace for 32 starts and 198 innings, which would have seemed absurdly optimistic totals before the season. "My conscience is pretty clear we can ride him," Collins said. "I said in spring training, 'If we get 28 starts out of him, we're going to be a pretty good club.' If we get 32 starts out of him, we are going to be a good club."
Santana was never concerned he was going to rue the extra effort the no-hitter against St. Louis required. He said Monday that his struggles after the gem were due to temporarily losing the feel on his pitches -- most importantly his signature changeup -- and not because of 134 pitches.
"It's much better," Santana said. "Getting a feel for it. I've been throwing it and getting good results. But that's the key. That's what I'm trying to do. Command my fastball. I think I threw better sliders. That's the whole thing."
Still, the whole thing for Collins is the realization that allowing Santana to go for the no-hitter apparently did not cause any damage.
Asked if it allows him to sleep better at night, Collins said: "Absolutely. Eases my mind completely that he came out of it OK. I'm really glad and I'm really happy for him. Happy that he got the no-hitter, but as we continue down this road, he's going to give us a lot of good baseball. Throw up a lot of zeros. He was only going to do that if he was healthy."