JUPITER, Fla. -- A reality check came in the first inning Monday for Johan Santana, as well as for all those invested in his surgically repaired left shoulder. It came in the form of a bases-loaded jam, with Santana not only unable to throw his fastballs for strikes, but also unable to deliver them with anything more than mid-80s zip.
Then, as quickly as it had crescendoed, the ominous music ceased. Santana struck out a batter, allowed a sacrifice fly and struck out another. He whiffed two more in the second inning, adding velocity all the while. By the time Santana was done, he had thrown five innings of two-run ball, whiffing five and walking three, with all three free passes coming in the first.
"It seemed like his command was all over the place," third baseman David Wright said. "You don't see him walking guys and hitting guys. It just seemed to me like his command was a little off and then he found it, and had a couple really good innings."
"It was just one of those days where it takes a little longer," Santana said. "That's all it was."
The Mets have been sensitive to any irregularities for their prized left-hander this spring, knowing how difficult it can be to recover from anterior shoulder capsule surgery. Even manager Terry Collins, whose optimism usually knows no bound, said recently that he never expected Santana to perform this consistently with no setbacks whatsoever.
Monday was simply evidence that, as well as he has pitched all spring, Santana is not invincible. To that end, in what marked the apex of his spring progression, Santana threw 88 pitches. He will back off that total in his final start five days from now, before taking the mound for Opening Day on April 5.
That means Santana may have to stomach a lighter workload early in the season, at least relative to what he has done in the past. His innings totals will depend mostly upon his efficiency in games.
"It's a process that I have to go through until I establish everything at a high count," Santana said. "You're going to have good and bad days. That's just the way it is.
"I'm getting there," he continued. "I still have one more start to go and see how everything goes. But I've been able to do everything the way it has been scheduled, and that's huge for me. That's something that I haven't experienced for a while."