JUPITER, Fla. - What happens after Johan Santana's turn in the rotation?
At this point, no one can possibly know the answer to one of the biggest questions hovering over the Mets. But Sunday the team's brass got an up-close glimpse of just how quickly things could go wrong with the rotation.
After Santana's four scoreless, dominant innings against the Marlins, John Maine took over in the fifth, quickly recorded two outs and suddenly couldn't do anything right: Walk. Walk. Double. Double. Walk. Double. Done.
Maine put the onus on the oddity of pitching in relief, something he was doing only because the Mets' rainout Friday forced them to change their immediate rotation plans. Oliver Perez, who was supposed to pitch Friday, was moved to Saturday, and that pushed Maine to Sunday behind Santana.
That type of switch obviously would never happen in the regular season. But seeing the difference between the outings by Santana (four innings, three hits, three strikeouts) and Maine - one of the other three definite members of the Mets' rotation - was stark. In two-thirds of an inning, Maine allowed five earned runs, three hits and three walks.
"Coming in and starting like that, it's the whole aspect of throwing before the game, sitting down and then coming in," Maine said. "It's a weird feeling. No excuses. I felt fine. My mechanics felt fine. I just wasn't that into it. I wasn't that comfortable."
Maine has built a reputation for beating himself up after bad outings, but he stayed calm and positive as he spoke about an hour after throwing 37 pitches and going 0-for-6 while trying to record his third out. "At least I got my pitches in," he said sarcastically.
Coming off a season in which he missed two months because of a sore shoulder, Maine said he left yesterday's outing pleased that his shoulder is healthy.
"The point for me - and I know everyone wants to go out there and throw up zeros. I'm not saying I don't want that - the point is to get me back to feeling good, and I feel fine,'' Maine said. "That's the biggest thing . . . It happens. What are you going to do?"
Jerry Manuel also gave Maine a pass, saying he "got out of sync" and that it was decided to pull him rather then let him fight for the third out.
"At some point, we'll let him work through those things," Manuel said, "but that's not the case now."
The bright spot from the Mets' 5-1 loss was Santana, who needed only 45 pitches to breeze through four innings.
Santana's 2009 season was cut short in late August by surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. After his second start of spring training, he said he is convinced he's back to normal now.
"The most important thing," he said, "is I don't feel anything in my elbow."
Santana's left elbow hurt so much last season that he said his slider was flat for most of the year, prompting him to abandon it. After working on the pitch since the beginning of camp, he said he is back throwing it regularly and is happy with its movement.
Said Santana: "I'm able to let the ball go without any restrictions."