PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Dressed in flamboyant shades of blue and orange, a slick pair of sunglasses wrapped around his head, Johan Santana was conspicuous as usual on Tuesday as he began to throw his routine long-toss session. Yet it turned out to be just that -- routine. About a half-dozen spectators stepped outside to watch. Most lost interest halfway through.
Contrast that to last spring, when throngs surrounded Santana every time he approached a mound. The left-hander needed only to step into a room to command full attention.
But this -- this was quiet.
"I'm expecting everything to be normal," Santana said. "There's no question about it."
Normal may be a relative term, considering all the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner has done to reach this point. Surgery on his left shoulder and more than a year's worth of rehab exploded into last spring's spectacle, which included daily concern over his health.
Though the Mets insisted at the time that everything was, well, normal, Santana admitted on Tuesday that the team had always planned to shut him down at some point during the summer. A nagging ankle injury and inflammation in his lower back finally prompted the club to do so in August, when it placed him on the disabled list somewhat against his will.
"It ended up in a way that I didn't want it to," he said. "But at the same time, I knew at that point I needed a rest.
"I didn't want to stop. I wanted to pitch, but then they put me on the DL and I wanted to come back from the DL. At that point, they said that that was enough. And enough was enough."
It was hardly the ending that Santana envisioned on the night of June 1, when he leapt off the mound, having delivered the first no-hitter in franchise history. At that moment, Santana was 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA and more than three times as many strikeouts as walks, a leading candidate to make the National League All-Star team.
But he also threw a career-high 134 pitches that evening, which may or may not have contributed to what happened next -- multiple injuries and an 8.27 ERA through the end of the season, including a 15.63 mark over his final five starts.
To this day, Santana swears that the 134 pitches had nothing to do with it. But how can anyone know for sure? He admitted himself that on the doorstep of his 34th birthday, "Just because I've been around a while doesn't mean I know everything."
Here's another thing Santana does not know -- what comes next. For now, he will follow his normal Spring Training progression, which included Tuesday's throwing session off flat ground. But he will not set goals, such as 30 starts or 200 innings.
He also will not consider what may happen at season's end, when the final guaranteed year on his contract expires. Though the Mets hold a $25 million option for 2014, they are certain to exercise Santana's $5.5 million buyout instead, making the left-hander a free agent for the first time in his career -- assuming they do not trade him first.
Either way, flamboyant shades of blue and orange may no longer be his to wear.
"That's something I don't think about right now," he said. "I'm worried about getting ready for the future and how it goes. Time will tell. I don't know what exactly is going to happen with me in the future, but as of right now, I'm just focused on getting ready for Spring Training and getting ready for the season. And as the season progresses, we'll see how everything goes."
If nothing else, the Mets have confidence in their former ace. Manager Terry Collins is prepared to make Santana his Opening Day starter, assuming he is healthy come April 1. Everyone around Port St. Lucie envisions him at least approaching 200 innings, knowing that the rotation and bullpen may be in trouble if he does not.
"Johan's the ultimate pro," Collins said. "The rest did him good. For the first time in three years, he doesn't have to rehab something every single day.
"Right now, as I sit here and I think about Johan Santana and where he fits, if he's the guy we know he can be, we're going to look up and he's going to have 190 or 200 innings, and give us a chance to win games as he always does every year of his career. That's how good he feels."
Santana could still represent his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, though he is not currently on the roster. Insurance hurdles may be too great to overcome given his injury history, and he will ultimately defer to the Mets if they ask him not to play.
He is more interested in the regular season, and what lies beyond.
"I'm more about my health than anything," Santana said. "I just want to make sure I play throughout the whole season and help as much as I can. What's going to happen in the future, I don't know. I've just got to stay healthy and see what the future will bring."