Santana May Come Back As A “Crafty” Lefty

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When a pitcher has been a gunslinger—even a thoughtful, strategic gunslinger—it’s not an easy transition to go from “I’ll outthink you. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll blow you away,” to a more cautious approach without that backup weapon of pure power. But that’s where the Mets are with Johan Santana.

Yesterday Santana continued his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery with a “gush-worthy” bullpen session. He’s scheduled to have a minor league start on Friday and the Mets are hoping for a token appearance in the big leagues before the season’s over.

I saw the clips of the session; his arm angle looked to be higher than it had been in his entire time with the Mets—back to where it was with the Twins. It remains to be seen whether that’s a short-term, occasional thing like we saw with Pedro Martinez in his first season with the Mets or is contingent on how he’s feeling that day.

The optimism is fine; the results—so far—are encouraging. Santana has been guarded in his comments and diligent in his work habits and recovery; he’s not trying to be a hero and come back before he’s absolutely ready.

These are positive developments.

But if people are anticipating the Johan Santana from the Cy Young Award years with the Twins or even the Santana from his first season with the Mets, they’re asking to be disappointed.

Apart from the occasional flash you see from a once-great athlete, be it a baseball player; tennis player; or boxer, that Santana will never be seen again on a start-in, start-out basis.

Anyone who’s known greatness can recover that at one point or another—briefly—but it’s not going to return with the consistency that once was there.

It’s far more likely that Santana returns as a pitcher who uses control and changing speeds to keep the hitters off balance—can dial it up 3-5 times a game when he’s in trouble—and records his outs through guile and execution of a plan. His slider has barely been seen in his time with the Mets and it was a key to his dominance with the Twins; his fastball lost a few critical inches as well. Don’t expect that to suddenly reappear on a regular basis.

He’s not going to be Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, Randy Jones or Frank Tanana—cunnythumber lefties—nor is he going to be Johan Santana circa-2004.

As a pitcher with a change-up/fastball repertoire, Santana has an advantage over other pitchers who’ve had a similar shoulder procedure and whose comebacks were slow and arduous and are only now beginning to bear fruit (Chien-Ming Wang) or have essentially stopped with their careers likely over (Brandon Webb).

Santana’s recovery is “on the right track” as the linked column says, but don’t believe that the Mets enthusiasm over Santana’s work is going to result in the devastating force that left lineups in ruins on a regular basis.

It doesn’t mean he can’t win; it doesn’t mean he won’t log innings and be a cog in the machine of a successful team. But he won’t be what he was. That pitcher is gone. Forever.

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8 thoughts on “Santana May Come Back As A “Crafty” Lefty

  1. Why are they making him rehab in the minors? The Mets are not going anywhere. Let him rehab where his manager, GM, and pitching coach can actually see him pitch. Oh and the doctors and trainers too.

    1. Especially for a competitor like Santana, rehabbing in the majors would just make it too difficult not to give 110%. I think it would also hurt people’s perception of him — his own, his opponents, fans, media — if he came back and started getting crushed. I like what they’re doing.

    2. I don’t agree. Follow the rehab protocol because they’re not going anywhere this year and let him work in the minors. I’m not even that big a fan of this plan to have him throw a few innings in the bigs before the season ends, but if he’s okay to do it, he’s okay to do it. I think they should be extra-cautious; he’s already gone for the season, just make sure he’s ready for 2012.

    1. You’re a Mets fan and this depresses you? Given their history, he might tear his elbow while rehabbng then be out for next year as well. Be happy that it’s going this well!

  2. I do think that if Johan is smart, he will look at the way that Pedro rebuilt himself. Because if Johan does have a slider now, and he can still take about 12 MPH off his fastball with that change, he can still be good for 6-7 innings of solid work most of the time. Plus, being a competitor, he will still have the ability to be the man that the Mets can look to when they need a losing streak stopped.

    The other thing that kind of amazes me about the talk of Santana coming back as his old self is that he had thrown a significant amount of innings anyway. And, he is at the point in time where even if his elbow hadn’t gone, he was going to begin to have to learn to be a little more crafty anyway. This injury is just going to expedite that. In the long run, that might even make him more effective more quickly because it will eliminate the illusion that its just a hiccup and that his fastball will magically return to being lights out.

    1. If Santana comes back with his stuff as diminished as Pedro’s was, then the Mets are really screwed.
      Expecting a dominating Cy Young Award winner is begging for disappointment; if he can give them 190-200 innings each year for the remaining two years of his contract, then I’d be happy. They can get by with that and he can win 15 games.

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