PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Johan Santana won 13 games last year before his season was cut short by surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Imagine the possibilities now that the two-time Cy Young winner has unhindered use of his valuable left arm.
That's what Santana thought about Thursday as he cruised through a 40-pitch simulated game on Tradition's stadium field. It served as his final preparation for his first start Tuesday against the Astros.
Unlike the rest of the staff, Santana had not thrown a live batting practice shift. He prefers to pitch in game situations, even pretending during his bullpen sessions. And judging by the action of his pitches, especially the slider, Santana should be on schedule for the April 5 opener.
"Now I can really extend my arm and release the ball in front of me and be able to throw my slider," he said. "It's definitely a big difference from last year. I'm able to now throw my pitches and let everything go. Last year I wasn't able to do that."
The Mets sent up Rod Barajas and Josh Thole as the unlucky victims, and neither made much contact. In fact, they rarely hit a ball in fair territory. "His changeup is such a natural pitch," Barajas said. "It looks like he could pick up a ball in December and be as good as anybody."
Calero in the mix
Desperate for relief help, the Mets signed righthander Kiko Calero to a minor-league contract. Calero, 35, went 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA in 67 games for the Marlins last season and is likely to be considered for the setup vacancy created by Kelvim Escobar's shoulder injury. Ryota Igarashi and Bobby Parnell also are candidates, but Calero has more experience - and more major-league success - in that role. Calero said he had been negotiating with eight teams and decided on the Mets because he knows a number of players on this year's club. Calero spent two weeks on the disabled list last season with right shoulder inflammation, which may explain why he signed so late, but he said he feels fine coming into camp.
Hisanori Takahashi returned from the Dominican Republic, where he solved his visa problems, and is expected to pitch in a game this weekend. Takahashi was stuck there longer than expected and worked out at the Mets' baseball academy as he awaited the visa . . . Jon Niese will start today's split-squad game at home against the Marlins. Fernando Nieve faces the Cardinals in Jupiter. Tomorrow, Mike Pelfrey starts against the Nationals, followed by Oliver Perez against the Nats Sunday and John Maine against the Marlins Monday.