Johan's exam canceled after session
Ace tosses 31 pitches; team elects not to test tight elbow
PORT ST. LUCIE -- The Mets dispersed late Sunday afternoon, certain to be a diminished team when they reassemble Tuesday. The middle of their batting order, no matter how manager Jerry Manuel eventually aligns the personnel, was out the door of the Spring Training camp complex, not to return for some time. The team's shiny new late-inning bullpen tandem and one of its starters rolled suitcases toward waiting limos and town cars as well, their return date undetermined. Even the middle infield understudy bolted, to return whenever.
But Johan Santana was going nowhere, and on a day of goodbyes, that constituted good news. No sense of loss was attached to the departure of 11 World Baseball Classic participants. Their exodus had been expected. But to the relief of all of Metsdom, no sense of loss was attached to Santana, either, because his departure had been canceled. After a Spring Training rarity Monday, an honest-to-goodness day off, Santana will return to team headquarters Tuesday and presumably go about the business of preparing for the 2009 season.
No flight to New York, no MRI, no flight back and -- the Mets fervently hope -- no more issues with his left elbow. Team Venezuela can't have Santana; the Classic won't pay the insurance premium. But the doctors can't have him either. Santana saw to that after some long-toss in the outfield and 31 pitches thrown off a practice mound Sunday morning convinced him he could move forward without tightness around his triceps tendon and risk.
Come Tuesday, when the lockers of 11 mostly high-profile team members will be unoccupied, Santana will be conspicuous by his presence.
That wasn't a given at times Sunday. The Mets had made arrangements for their primary starting pitcher to be examined in Manhattan on Monday by their primary physician, David Altchek. But shortly after his itinerary was announced, reported, posted and generally fussed over, the pitcher decided to stay put. And the club went along for the non-ride.
The weather forecast for the New York City area was a factor in the about-face. But mostly, the change was about Santana's elbow.
"I feel fine," the pitcher said following his cameo appearance on the six-pack mound. "It's the first time in the last four days that I threw, but I feel good. No problems. As you throw more pitches, you feel better. That tells me we're making progress and getting loose."
Then again, Santana had indicated previously that the tightness developed after, not during, his bullpen session Wednesday. But when "after" had come and gone and the tightness hadn't returned, the veteran pitcher decided medical examination wasn't necessary.
The club had buried the needle in caution when it determined Santana should see Altchek. The caution was understandable. But the club didn't want to demonstrate concern. At one point, general manager Omar Minaya said he was unconcerned, but moments later he agreed the examination had been scheduled for reasons of peace of mind.
"He felt he was fine, so he's not going to New York as planned," Minaya told The Associated Press. "He'll be seen by our doctors when they come down. It was the weather also."
Certainly, there were indications of more than normal interest among Mets staff members when Santana began his 31-pitch session. Minaya, assistant GM John Ricco, pitching coaches Dan Warthen, Randy Niemann and Guy Conti, and trainer Ray Ramirez were among those closely monitoring Santana.
After about 20 pitches, Warthen, sans bat, stepped into an invisible batter's box to get a better view. At one point, Santana indicated he would throw a changeup. Warthen moved up in the box. And Santana threw a fastball inside and at the knees.
"Nothing wrong with that arm," Warthen said to catcher Omir Santos.
Santana threw his fastball and changeup, but not his slider, a pitch that stresses the elbow. Warthen estimated the pitcher had thrown with 85 percent effort and said he caught Santana smiling at one point.
"He didn't seem worried," Warthen said. "That was as good a sign as the way he threw."
Warthen smiled as well when he discovered a possible silver lining in this whole scenario. While not yet eliminating the chance Santana will be the Mets' Opening Day starter on April 6 in Cincinnati, he suggested a revision of the first week's rotation might make Santana the starter in the first regular-season game at Citi Field on April 13.
"And no one would complain about that, right?' Warthen said.
At this point, most talk of Santana's schedule is conjecture. He said he intends to have another bullpen session before the first of three batting-practice sessions and days of rest in between. Warthen hopes the batting practice sessions will be limited to two. He also hopes Santana' first exhibition start will happen March 13, the pitcher's 30th birthday. Anything later almost certainly will make him unavailable to start on April 6.
|"I feel fine. It's the first time in the last four days that I threw, but I feel good. No problems. As you throw more pitches, you feel better. That tells me we're making progress and getting loose."|
|-- Johan Santana|
But Manuel suggested Santana is so well conditioned and strong that he might be able to pitch in Cincinnati without a full spring. That seemed to contradict Manuel's own pledge to be "extra, extra, extra" cautious with the most valuable pitching arm on the roster and also Warthen's promise: "We will go ahead and not push that envelope whatsoever."
Warthen's spontaneous calculations had produced April 8 and the season's second game as a possible time for Santana's season debut. If Santana were to start then, he would be in line to make his second start in the opening home game. "What we want is for him to make all the starts he's supposed to make," Warthen said.
That would be 34. When they come is less important. And, Warthen added, he'd like to see an additional six starts -- in the postseason.
Pitcher and coach acknowledged Santana's desire to pitch for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic may have contributed to the problem. Santana threw off a mound on alternating days once he arrived in camp Feb. 8 -- more often than he was accustomed to throwing. Warthen's view was that the sessions were more intense than usual.
"I just think he tried to throw too hard too soon," the coach said. "That's my speculation. I'm guessing he had his own quiet agenda, not sharing it with anybody."
"Coming to Spring Training, my mind-set was to participate in the [Classic]," Santana said. "Somehow you have to find a way to get ready. I think that's what it is -- throwing too much too soon."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.