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Santana could be back in three weeks

Mets pitcher Johan Santana.

Mets pitcher Johan Santana. Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

WASHINGTON -- Johan Santana's rehab debut Thursday, in which he struck out three in three scoreless innings for Class A St. Lucie, officially started the clock on his eventual return to the Mets.

As for when Santana will rejoin the club, and what might happen because of it, that has yet to be determined. At this point, Santana is expected to make another start for St. Lucie, probably Wednesday, before climbing the organizational ladder.

"That's his first outing, so he's got a long road ahead,'' manager Terry Collins said. "When he starts to get six and seven innings, up to the 85-, 90- pitch range, then I'll start to really think about him."

Collins estimated that Santana will need at least another three weeks before rejoining the rotation, and that could set up two potential return dates: either Aug. 21 against the Brewers or Aug. 26 against the Braves -- both at Citi Field. It's unlikely that the Mets would let his return come during the middle series (Aug. 22-24) against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

While it's a bit premature to say who will be dropped from the rotation to make room, the most vulnerable spots belong to Dillon Gee and Chris Capuano.

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