PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Johan Santana, working on his fielding, bunting and conditioning, has to keep his eye on a bigger picture.
Santana, who last pitched for the Mets on Sept. 2, 2010, underwent surgery on Sept. 14, 2010, to repair the tear of his anterior capsule of his left shoulder. Earlier this week, Washington pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, the former Yankee who had this procedure done in 2009, was asked what advice he would offer to Santana. "Patience," Wang said.
"That's what it is. That's the key," Santana said, upon hearing Wang's counsel. "Regardless of what you're trying to do, your arm will let you know. You have to listen to your body. . . . [For] these types of surgeries, you have to give them time, there's no question about it. You have to give them time, let it heal."
The Mets seem more optimistic in Santana's progress than does the pitcher himself. Pitching coach Dan Warthen beamed as he discussed how Santana threw 240 feet in long toss on Tuesday, then reported to work Wednesday and played catch without any soreness. On Thursday, Santana is scheduled to throw live batting practice, another hurdle to clear.
"Your expectations and your elation are high," Warthen said, "because the ball's coming out of his hand great."
Santana, however, takes a more measured approach. Said the lefthander: "You're going to have good days, bad days, OK days. Right now, I feel good. But in order for me to know, I'll have to go out there and compete at the major-league level. And that's why spring training is very important."
Wang said that it took him "almost two years" to feel normal again; he had his surgery on July 30, 2009 and made his big-league return on July 29, 2011.
"That's what I was told from the beginning: It would take up to two years," Santana said. "And that was the mindset. If I could come back sooner, great. If not, hey, it's two years. There is a time frame there, and I'm really working my way back, and working hard."
"He's a little different animal, probably, than Chien-Ming," Warthen said of Santana. "He knows himself. He has an easier arm working angle. Chien-Ming had a lot more torque. Personally, I think Johan has a better chance to come back sooner."
Warthen described himself as "a realist" and expressed hope that Santana could make from 22 to 25 starts, as well as contribute his leadership skills. That many starts would indeed be a coup, and the Mets realize that their starting pitching depth is suspect, with the likes of Jeremy Hefner and Chris Schwinden battling to be the first reserve starter. The Mets also keep in touch with Chris Young, although we know how injury-prone he is.
The Mets have been accused of pushing injured players to get back on the field; just ask Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church or Jose Reyes. Yet Santana insisted, "We were on the same page with this" last year, as he sat out the whole year.
And from talking to him, you get the feeling they'll stay on the same page.