Johan Santana's first two Mets seasons did not end well, and not too many folks expect his third one to finish much better.
But his Mets seasons certainly have started rather nicely.
Santana won for the Mets on Opening Day for the third consecutive year, beating the Marlins, 7-1, with six innings of four-hit pitching. This was a bit sweeter, though, given that his 2009 season ended in August because of shoulder surgery.
"This was the guy I'm used to facing," said Rod Barajas, who made his Mets debut catching Santana. "Early on in the spring, his fastball wasn't zipping out of his hand like it was today. It had that extra zip. The changeup was there, he mixed in some sliders. He was a professional."
A lot of that came together Friday in St. Petersburg in Santana's final spring training bullpen session. His changeup had been hanging up in the strike zone, and Santana finally got it to dive. That's the pitch he had Monday in recording five strikeouts, including Cameron Maybin three times.
"That was something we focused on [in St. Petersburg with pitching coach Dan Warthen], and today you saw the results," Santana said. "Overall, I felt fine."
Coming through the 103-pitch outing with no pain also was important. "I felt good throughout the whole game, and that's a good sign. I didn't feel anything with my arm," Santana said. "My legs were fine, so I just have to get ready for the next one and build everything up from now on."
Santana found barely any trouble, getting out of a pair of two-on situations. In the fourth, he got Dan Uggla and Ronny Paulino on flies to center with two on; in his final inning, after allowing his only run on Jorge Cantu's two-out, two-strike double, Paulino again flied to center.
The swirling winds made some fly balls an adventure, but the Mets didn't give the Marlins any extra outs while Santana was on the mound. And Santana was his usual self on the first day of the season. As for the rest of the year, everyone is hopeful that Santana's elbow will hold up for a full season.
"I feel very confident in that and I also feel that he sets the tone for the other young starters that we have,'' manager Jerry Manuel said, "and I think hopefully it will feed off of that. I feel very confident [the other starters] will pitch well. I feel very good about that."