PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ozzie Guillen now manages the Marlins, becoming Johan Santana's divisional rival just as he was from 2004 through 2007, when Guillen led the White Sox and Santana pitched for the Twins.
It's in Guillen's best interests for Santana's comeback to fizzle. Yet as Santana threw 42 pitches for the Mets Sunday at Digital Domain Park, continuing his comeback from September 2010 surgery to repair the tear of the anterior capsule of his left shoulder, Guillen couldn't feel negative about his fellow Venezuelan.
"I'm very happy, very excited, very proud. He's back on the mound pain-free," Guillen said. "He threw the ball well. I know Johan went through a lot of different steps to get where he is right now.
"I want to say I hope he's not pitching, because he's going to pitch against me. But I hope he's there."
He will be, manager Terry Collins said after Santana's second start of spring training. Santana allowed two hits and an unearned run in 22/3 innings, striking out two and walking one in the Mets' 4-2 loss in a game called after five innings because of rain. Proclaimed Collins: "I truly believe we're going to do this right, and that Johan Santana will be on this team Opening Day."
Santana, in what has been a recurring theme in spring training, cast himself as the voice of caution. "We'll see. I don't know," he said. "I'm going one start at a time, trying to build up. But if I'm ready for [Opening Day], I'll be out there. So that's definitely something I'm looking forward to."
The Mets, Collins' enthusiasm notwithstanding, still regard Santana as their Faberge egg. With rain in the forecast, team officials determined that they wouldn't allow Santana to pitch in poor conditions. If it was raining at 1:05 p.m., Santana would throw a bullpen session under a protective roof, and the Mets would start Chris Schwinden against Miami.
That proved unnecessary, as Santana pitched through a dry first and a second-inning sprinkling. The rain picked up in the third, however, and when Santana issued a four-pitch walk to Hanley Ramirez, his fifth batter of the frame, Collins went to the mound to remove his titular ace.
"If he had stayed in the game and slipped on that mound," Collins said with a smile, standing behind his office desk, "someone else would be standing here."
The ballpark radar gun clocked Santana's fastball as high as 90 miles per hour, and he displayed strong off-speed stuff, striking out Emilio Bonifacio and Kyle Skipworth on changeups. Team officials took particular delight in Santana's body language, as he looked comfortable and competitive on the mound. "I feel like he's right there," catcher Josh Thole said.
Added Guillen, "He's taking the right steps,"
His next start is scheduled for Friday, against the Tigers in Port St. Lucie, and he'll shoot to raise his pitch count to about 60, and then to 80 in the start after that. At that juncture, Santana said, he and the team will have a better read of his status.
For a team sorely in need of optimism, though, the Mets will derive some joy from what they've seen so far. For a man of Santana's accomplishments, even his opponents appreciate the effort.
"I'm very proud of him," Guillen said. "Some people, they make all that money, they'd say, ' ---- rehab. I already got my money.' He showed the New York Mets and the New York fans what kind of human being, what kind of player he is."