(Sports Network) - It's difficult to gather attention playing in the same
division as Philadelphia and Atlanta, and it has to sting when also-rans in
Miami and Washington are starting to turn heads in the NL East.
The New York Mets are the new duds of the division, and deservedly so since
they've produced a losing record in each of the previous three seasons, have
been embroiled in financial strife (thanks, Bernie Madoff) and let Jose Reyes
take his talents to south Florida with the new-look Marlins.
Perhaps the only intriguing player left on the Mets' roster for the 2012
season is third baseman David Wright. And that's where the debate and
popularity contest commences with news that staff ace Johan Santana could be
ready to continue what he does best by Opening Day. The Venezuelan left-hander
and two-time American League Cy Young Award winner (2004 and 2006 with
Minnesota) missed the entire 2011 campaign with a shoulder injury that
Santana last pitched on Sept. 2, 2010 against the Braves, allowing one run in
five innings, and needed a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder repaired
shortly thereafter. That's awful news for those who throw from 60 feet, 6
inches. The capsule is located on the front and bottom part of the shoulder
close to the pectoral muscle, resulting in discomfort radiating through both
areas. Shoulder issues are in a league of their own when it comes to elbow or
biceps injuries, so it's fair for Santana to take baby steps. The Mets are
keeping him from fielding drills right now in Spring Training.
According to surgeon and Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek, the tear in
Santana's shoulder was difficult to reach and an incision was made near the
problem. The only issue with that is scar tissue, which can affect range of
motion and the rehabilitation process.
"If you can't get to it, you have to open it up, and it's less desirable when
it's done that way," Dr. Craig Levitz, the chairman and chief of orthopedic
surgery at South Nassau Hospital on Long Island, told the New York Times at
the time of the surgery. "Anytime you open the shoulder, you have to make cuts
in the tissue, and that causes scarring. So it does make you worry a little
more, but you still expect him to do fairly well."
Pitchers can come back even stronger than before after undergoing this type of
procedure; it's something similar for a recipient of ligament replacement
surgery or Tommy John surgery. The Mets are hoping that is the case with their
high-priced southpaw, who is in the midst of a six-year deal worth $137.5
million, which was signed before the 2008 season. Levitz added that Santana
will need about three months to return to 100 percent, and that was over a
The Mets found a diamond in the rough in Dillon Gee in 2011 and he led the
club with 13 wins. Jonathan Niese and Chris Capuano (now with the Los Angeles
Dodgers) were tied for second with 11 wins each and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey
followed with eight. Mike Pelfrey had a down season with just seven wins,
further cementing the fact New York is in dire need of having Santana back
healthy and ready to go.
Santana, who has two guaranteed years and a $25 million team option remaining
on his contract, has posted a 40-25 record with a 2.85 ERA over three seasons
with the Mets. He made it as far as Class-A St. Lucie in his rehab stint.
Like most athletes dealing with a post-surgery quandary, Santana never made it
back to the major league level and was delegated to long toss and playing
catch for the time being. It sounds pretty boring, but in athletic terms it's
equivalent to Neil Armstrong's first steps off Apollo 11.
Santana expressed his excitement of getting back to work this week at spring
training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
"I finally had a chance to get on the mound and throw to a catcher ... and I
felt really good," he said.
Whether Santana can handle the normal workload during camp and be ready for
Opening Day remains to be seen, but at least it appears the Mets will have
their ace back regardless at some point in 2012. There's no need to rush the
lefty back since the season doesn't begin for some time and Santana needs all
the preparation possible to hold up for at least 30 starts.
Throwing off a mound to a catcher is just one of many encouraging signs that
New York's changeup master is ready to get the club back into the NL East mix.
Dickey said he's not getting his hopes up yet for Santana to bolster the
rotation once again, but will have his fingers crossed that his teammate can
make a full recovery with no setbacks.
In a sport in which pitching is king, the Mets, who haven't reached the
playoffs since winning the division and losing in seven games to St. Louis in
the 2006 NLCS, are evaluating Santana's every move in hopes of him being able
to recover after each bullpen session let alone taking turns in the rotation
during Grapefruit League action. Santana has already thrown two bullpen
sessions and 55 total pitches off a mound since his arrival to camp. The
Mets' Grapefruit League schedule starts on March 5.
Miguel Batista and D.J. Carrasco are a few rotation options for New York if
Santana fails to crack the Opening Day roster, and quite frankly the team
might as well raise the white flag if that comes to fruition.
"In my mind right now, in my heart, he'll be ready," Mets skipper Terry
Collins told mets.com. "I don't think there's any question. He's gearing
himself up for that, to be ready."
Santana's surgery was a very unique one for an even more particular type of
pitcher. His teammates consider him the "bull of the team" -- sentiments
rightfully deserved for Santana's frame of work over his career.
Even though one man doesn't make that much of a difference in baseball, the
Mets are counting on Santana to successfully overcome an arduous journey and
pitch them back to respectability.
The Sports Network